Trump’s Battle for 50 Percent in NY.
Donald Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary is a foregone conclusion. But which side of 50 percent he falls on is up in the air — and that could make a world of difference.
The Empire State’s rules for allocating delegates give a major bonus to candidates winning a majority. A finish above 50 percent across the state would give Trump all 14 delegates awarded statewide. The same rules apply within each of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
So the difference between winning with 49 percent of the vote and 51 could be enormous, and most polls put him at or just above 50 percent. Exceed that threshold statewide and in each congressional district, and the Manhattan businessman will walk away with all 95 delegates. Fall just short, and Trump may lose up to a third of the New York delegates, complicating his path to the 1,237 delegates he needs nationwide to secure a first-ballot victory at the Republican National Convention.
“He must win all of the delegates from the state of New York,” said Leslie Feldman, a political science professor at Hofstra University. “Must, must, must.”
Feldman said failing to win a majority of the vote in his home state would be a blow symbolically. But she added that he looks strong in all parts of the state. His get-tough-on-trade message resonates in hard-hit industrial parts of Western and Upstate New York, and he is well-known downstate.
“Trump is a New York celebrity, like the unofficial mayor of New York,” she said. “When people go into the voting booths and see Donald Trump … he’s one of us.”
Carl Paladino, a brash developer and former gubernatorial candidate from Buffalo who is heading up Trump’s New York efforts, expressed confidence. “Trump’s going to have a big wave upstate, similar to what I did when I ran for governor,” he said. “We have to win every congressional district.”
Paladino said Sen. Ted Cruz has failed to gain any traction. “Cruz is just about burnt out in New York,” he said. “He’s not doing well at all.”
The Texas senator has stumbled badly in Gotham. Trump has hammered him at every turn for his “New York values” jab at one of the Republican primary debates. Feldman said the pejorative has hurt him even in the more conservative upstate region. Cruz also endured heckling during a campaign stop in the Bronx and got a cold reception at a Republican party fundraising dinner.
“Ted Cruz has done just about everything he can to alienate people in New York,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at State University of New York, Cortland. “He’s completely a fish out of water up here.”
Demographics Hurt Cruz
Cruz’s “New York values” gaffe certainly did him no favors. But there are demographic reasons to think that New York was always going to tough sledding for the firebrand conservative Texan. Exit polls from the 2008 New York Republican primary reveal an electorate short of two groups of voters on which Cruz has relied heavily — evangelicals and “very conservative” voters.
In 2008, just 19 percent of New York Republican primary voters were born-again Christians, a group Cruz has tended to carry outside of the Deep South, where Trump romped among almost every subgroup. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts — three northeastern states that Trump won handily — evangelicals made up no more than 30 percent of voters.
Only 21 percent of New York primary voters described themselves as “very conservative” in 2008, another bad sign for Cruz. The very conservative share was 10 points higher in Wisconsin, which he won on April 5. Very conservative voters made up 40 percent or more of the electorate in two states that Cruz won — Iowa and Oklahoma. The very conservative share in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Vermont, and Michigan was much closer to New York’s 2008 mark. Trump won them all.
One potential factor working in Cruz’s factor is that New York is a closed primary state, meaning that only registered Republicans can participate in the primary. Cruz has enjoyed an advantage in states where Democrats and independents could not cross over. Two of Trump’s own children, in fact, failed to change their registration in time to vote in the GOP primary.
According to New York State registration records, 3.2 million voters do not belong to a political party or are members of minor parties. That exceeds registered Republicans by more than 470,000, to say nothing of the 50 percent of voters who are registered Democrats. The New York rules deny Trump a huge pool of potential voters with whom he has excelled. But experts said it is unlikely to be a major impediment to Trump, who is more popular among New York Republicans than in many other states.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a difference,” said Feldman, the Hofstra professor.
Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey, who is one of Trump’s state co-chairmen, said the mogul enjoys more institutional support in the state. He has endorsements from a pair of sitting U.S. representatives and a number of county party leaders. He said he expects that to help Trump both with accumulating votes and counting on the support of delegates, who for the first time this election will be chosen by party committees.
Dadey also noted the campaign’s hiring of insider Paul Manafort to lead Trump’s delegate operation nationwide.
“To me, that sends a particularly strong signal that they’re taking this pretty seriously,” he said.
Trump also enjoys a more favorable media environment. Unlike Wisconsin, where he had a cadre of well-respected conservative radio talk show hosts arrayed against him, local talk radio in New York has mostly ranged form friendly to neutral.
Breakthrough for Kasich?
Cruz has enjoyed a measure of success nationally in pushing the narrative that he is the only viable alternative to Trump, and also that Gov. John Kasich should drop out so that the #NeverTrump forces can coalesce around his candidacy. Sen. Linsey Graham (R-S.C.) has endorsed Cruz for those pragmatic reasons, even though he said he believes Kasich would make the better president.
But New York is a state with demographics to suggest Kasich’s more moderate message might have a receptive audience. Spitzer, the SUNY-Cortland professor, said that having Kasich and Cruz in the race might offer the best chance to deny Trump some delegates he likely would win in a head-to-head race with either.
“If you’re anti-Trump, yes, you want Kasich to stay in the race,” he said.
Still, Kasich’s candidacy has not exactly taken off in New York.
“My head is sore from banging it against the wall,” said Kasich supporter Kevin Hardwick, a Canisius College political science professor who also serves in the Erie County Legislature. “What’s stopping people is they don’t know him. He can’t get any oxygen.”
Despite his preference for Kasich, Hardwick conceded Trump’s strength. In a sign that Trump’s opponents may have written off western New York, he pointed to the ads wars — or lack, thereof — on the airwaves.
“I’m seeing Hillary Clinton ads,” he said. “I’m seeing Bernie Sanders ads. I’m not seeing any ads for the Republican candidates.”
That leaves Kasich to focus on specific congressional districts here and there where he may be able to pick off delegates. He said some of the heavily Democratic districts in New York City are wild cards because there are so few Republican voters. A few thousand votes will likely be enough to win these districts, yet GOP rules allot the same number of delegates as heavily Republican districts.
“Because it’s so small, anything can happen,” Hardwick said. “You could almost go door to door.”
In theory, places with large populations of blacks and Latinos would be hostile territory for Trump. But a poll last week by Quinnipiac University indicated that support for Trump among Republicans — better than 60 percent — was even stronger in the city and suburbs than the rest of the state. And Trump has performed well in urban districts with large numbers of minority voters in states that have held primaries so far. In many cases, Trump’s percentages in these districts exceeded his statewide totals.
Stephen Ansolabehere, a political science professor at Harvard University, wrote in an email response to questions from LifeZette that Trump fares well in these districts because the small number of Republicans who live in them tend to be relatively lower income and less educated — groups that have disproportionately supported the tycoon across the country.
“In most of these districts the whites tend to be lower (income) and middle income and those voters have been trending for Trump,” he wrote. “They have lower evangelical populations (Cruz’s base) and are not suburban conservatives (who may be inclined toward Kasich).”