New York State of Mind

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17:  Democratic presidential candidate U.S Senator, Bernie Sanders speaks during, 'A Future To Believe I
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Democratic presidential candidate U.S Senator, Bernie Sanders speaks during, 'A Future To Believe In' GOTV rally concert at Prospect Park on April 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic)

Tomorrow's New York primary will be the decisive one, the pundits tell us. It will join a long list of other primaries and caucuses which were also deemed to be the crucial one which would decide the whole race: Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and (of course) all the Super Tuesday states. All of these, in turn, were the decisive ones to watch, we were told. The fact that no decisive winner has emerged on either side is deemed irrelevant afterwards, of course, because by then we'll all be focused on the next big, definitive primary on the calendar. This will likely continue right up to California's (decisive) vote, in June.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are two Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates who are still relevant. This will likely be true all the way to the conventions, no matter how many delegates are won by the frontrunners. The battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will still be contentious in Cleveland, and the fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is still going to matter in Philadelphia. Both parties are struggling with the question of who they are and what they stand for, and on both sides this will likely continue long after the 2016 race is over.

Having said all of that, though, I'm still going to devote the rest of this column to predicting the horserace, as I've been doing all throughout the primary season. Part of the reason New York looms so large is the fact that we've had a two-week period of relative calm on the calendar, and also that no other state will be voting tomorrow. Next week will be more interesting, as many Atlantic seaboard states vote together, but for now New York is the sole focus.

Before I get to predictions, I've got to update my record. Two weeks ago, I called the Wisconsin race for Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, although I was much more timid in my predictions on the margins. I hedged my bets by predicting both would win by only around five points, and both candidates impressively exceeded this: Cruz won by 13 points, Sanders by 12. I also snuck a prediction of victory in Wyoming for Sanders into one of my Friday columns, which turned out to be correct. This improves my score by calling two-for-two right on the Democratic side and calling the only Republican race right as well. Overall, this pushed my record up to exactly three-fourths correct for the whole season.

Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 27 for 36 -- 75%

Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 30 for 40 -- 75%

Total overall correct picks: 57 for 76 -- 75%.

With the recordkeeping out of the way, let's take a look at the two primaries which will happen tomorrow night.

 

New York (Republicans)

This one's pretty easy to predict. Donald Trump will take his home state by a very large margin. The only real question is whether Ted Cruz can even manage second place here, or whether John Kasich will beat him. Cruz is no doubt kicking himself repeatedly for that "New York values" quip, as it now seems that every single Republican voter in the state fully remembers Cruz sneering at them, back in Iowa. The polling between Cruz and Kasich has been neck-and-neck, but unfortunately for both of them, it is also at only about half of Trump's overall support.

The big question for tomorrow night in the GOP is whether Trump completely sweeps the state or not. If he gets over half of the vote, he could walk away with every single delegate -- which would boost his lead over Cruz by almost 100 delegates. For both Cruz and Kasich, wresting even a handful of delegates away from Trump will be a victory (of sorts), because at this point neither Cruz nor Kasich is ever going to be able to amass more delegates than Trump. They're fighting for one purpose and one purpose only -- to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win on the first convention vote. So peeling off five or ten delegates from Trump's haul tomorrow night will be about the best either Cruz or Kasich can hope for, at this point.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump gets at least 90 delegates tomorrow night. He may not sweep every single delegate, but he's going to at least come close. Trump should wind up with a sum total of around 850 delegates, meaning he'll have fewer than 400 to go to reach the magic number. Whether he manages to do so or not, his big victory tomorrow night will tamp down all the talk of Trump "losing momentum." Trump will win New York big (huge, even), and he'll then be in good position to win most of the states voting next Tuesday as well.

 

New York (Democrats)

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been campaigning very hard over the past two weeks. Bernie's back from meeting the Pope, and Hillary's back from meeting George Clooney, and both will be fighting hard for every Big Apple vote right up until the polls close tomorrow.

Hillary has always had the most to lose here. If Bernie actually beats her tomorrow, then she will have lost her "home" state. Clinton can claim three states as home ground, and she's won two already (Arkansas and Illinois), but New York is the big one, since it is the state she represented in the Senate for eight years. To lose would be a big embarrassment for Clinton, and that's putting it mildly.

Bernie can claim home ground in New York as well (along with Vermont), since he was born here. But his ties are a lot less recent than Hillary's, and he's never won an election here. If he manages to do so tomorrow, it would be a bigger upset than beating Clinton in Michigan was, and it will produce a whole lot of angst within the party over the relative weakness of Clinton as a candidate. So Bernie's got the most to win tomorrow, and Hillary's got the most to lose.

However, I don't think it's going to happen. Bernie Sanders will likely fall short of upsetting Hillary Clinton tomorrow night. Bernie has been packing them in to his rallies, pulling audiences of 27,000 and 28,000 in the past week. The enthusiasm is still there, and lots of New Yorkers are feeling the Bern in a big way. But it's not going to be enough.

I say this for two reasons. The first is that New York holds a closed primary, meaning independents cannot vote for a Democratic candidate. Sanders has done a lot better in open primaries, because his support reaches deeply into the independent demographic. But they'll be shut out of the process tomorrow, which is going to hurt Bernie's overall vote total.

The second reason I don't see Bernie winning tomorrow night is that there has been almost no movement in the polls over the past two weeks. Clinton was up by ten points or better two weeks ago, and she is now up by almost exactly the same margin. Sanders hasn't moved the needle at all, in other words, even after all those impressive rallies. This may be because it is so late in the primary season -- many voters have already made up their minds by this point, and there's not a lot that would get them to change their view. Even holding a debate in New York didn't shift the numbers at all, so it's hard to see some sort of Sanders wave appearing at the last minute.

Of course, the polls could be wrong -- all of them. They certainly were in Michigan, please remember. But I don't think they will prove to be all that inaccurate tomorrow night. Usually an upset is preceded by a very late surge in the polls, mere days before the election. That has so far failed to materialize for Bernie. Maybe Sanders will outperform where the polls put him now, but I think the best he could manage would be to lose to Clinton by only five points or so (rather than by 10 or 15).

While Clinton does have a lot to lose in New York, if she wins it may be the end of any chance Bernie Sanders has to beat her in the overall pledged delegate count. This chance was slim (at best) heading into New York, but it could become nothing short of an impossible dream afterwards. I doubt Bernie is going to drop out of the race or anything -- I fully expect him to keep fighting, all the way to the end of the primary calendar. He'll be following in Clinton's footsteps if he does so, since this is precisely what she did back in 2008. Bernie's still generating a lot of excitement out there on the hustings, and he's still generating a huge amount of campaign cash, so there is really nothing stopping him from going the distance. Hillary Clinton likely won't hit the delegate count she needs until the very end of the race (California, perhaps), so she will not be able to make the pivot to attacking only the Republican candidates -- she's going to have to fight Sanders for every state, right up to the end.

So those are my predictions -- Trump in a landslide, with at least 90 delegates when the night is done; and Clinton wins the vote, but only by single digits. If you think I'm way off base, let me know about it in the comments, where (as always) you are free to share your own predictions with everyone.

 

[Previous states' picks:]

 

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