The presidential hopefuls have descended on the Big Apple.
On a debate stage in January ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Texas Senator Ted Cruz used the phrase “New York values” to slur front-runner Donald Trump and paint him as out of touch with the party. Months later, his tune has changed.
Cruz spent Thursday in Brooklyn, where he toured a matzah bakery and met with Orthodox rabbis. Dozens gathered outside on Ocean Parkway and gave him specially made red yarmulkas sporting his campaign logo and yelled “Jews for Cruz” when he emerged.
“I love you and I am so proud to be with you,” Cruz told the group during his tour of the bakery located inside of a Jewish community center. Following that event, the Texan held a roundtable with members of Brooklyn’s Jewish community.
As the center of the U.S. presidential selection process shifts to New York—and its coveted 95 Republican delegates—without a presumptive winner, the state is experiencing a rush of attention it hasn’t experienced since the last time the party held a contested convention in 1976.
It’s not just Cruz trying to look comfortable in New York. Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich also hit the outer boroughs and gorged on Italian food. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton spoke outside Yankee Stadium Thursday, where she said she was fine with New York values and rode the subway.
“I think New Yorkers are excited because all the excitement has gone to Iowa and New Hampshire, and now New York is finally getting some attention,” Andrew Wolpin, a rabbi who attended Cruz’s Brooklyn event, said during an interview. “I think it’s not unusual. I think taking a landmark and using it in the campaign is a wonderful thing to do no matter who’s the candidate.”
To be sure, both of the party front-runners have longstanding ties to New York. Trump was born and raised in Queens and the family’s real estate empire started in the Big Apple. Clinton represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2009 before leaving to become President Barack Obama’s first secretary of state. Bernie Sanders, her opponent, was born in Brooklyn.
Still, some New Yorkers are grateful for the attention.
“It’s very unusual for New York to be this important, and it’s also unusual for three out of the five candidates on both sides of this race to have some pretty unquestionable connect to New York State and to be able to stake some claim to it,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a professor of politics at Fordham University in New York. “There is some novelty.”
He said the “New York values” crack by Cruz was a mistake and would hurt him with voters who don’t take kindly to having their ethics questioned.
Some of that hometown love came through for Trump, who is backed by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In the heavily Democratic city, however, every public event for Republican candidates can bring out a mixed crowd.
Mohammed Bhuiyam, a 35-year-old Sanders supporter from Brooklyn who crashed the Cruz matzo-party on Thursday, said he thinks the new-found attention on the Empire State will attract voters and drum up interest in the process where it hasn’t been stoked in the past.
“I wasn’t as interested eight years ago as I am now,” he said in an interview. “I see more and more people actively paying attention. People always say their vote doesn’t matter. But when everything comes together, of course it’s going to matter.”