BUFFALO, New York-Fresh off a thumping by Sen. Ted Cruz in the Wisconsin GOP Primary, delegate front runner Donald Trump is looking to regain momentum in his home state of New York, which will hold its primary in two weeks, on April 19.
The Wisconsin setback has delivered a blow to Trump’s persona as a “winner,” a key element of the momentum that has kept him at the top of nationwide polls for over six months.
Whether that loss has a lasting effect on his campaign could largely be determined by how well he performs in New York.
Polls show Trump with a comfortable lead in the Empire State. The latest Monmouth University Poll gives him 52 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, compared to second place Ohio Governor John Kasich’s 25 percent. Cruz trails in a distant third, with 17 percent.
There should be little surprise that Cruz, whose criticism of Trump’s “New York values” was his first major direct attack on the reality TV star, trails badly in the Empire State.
But New York is comprised of at least three distinct regions with very different economic bases and voters: New York City, where Democrats dominate, Long Island and suburban New York, where moderate Republicans have a fighting chance, and upstate New York (north of Westchester County) where the rural areas lean Republican and the hollowed out industrial cities are in decline (Utica, Binghamton, Troy, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo), though Democratic machine politics still dominate in these once-vibrant communities as good manufacturing jobs continue to flee to points south, including Mexico.
Wednesday night, Trump held one of his trademark rallies in one of those regions–Bethpage, on Long Island–but his plans for campaigning in upstate New York, an area in which he is expected to do well, are largely unknown and unannounced.
The message Trump began with — fair trade, border security, military victory over radical Islam, and a temporary ban on Muslim immigration–resonates in all parts of the state outside New York City. Even in the Big Apple, however, Trump has adherents among GOP primary voters.
But Trump, badly needing to turn the page on two weeks of political mistakes that contributed to the Wisconsin debacle, appears reluctant to make a full pivot back to “what brung him to the dance” and away from the personal attacks on opponents that have begun to backfire. It is also unclear if he plans to really focus on appearances on all three of the Empire State’s regions.
Therein lies the opportunity for both Kasich and Cruz.
Trump’s team claims it will come away with 90 of the state’s 95 delegates on primary day, no mean feat, because to do that Trump would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote statewide (where 14 delegates will be elected), and hit the same standard in at least 25 of the state’s 27 Congressional Districts, each of which will pick three delegates.
It’s winner-take-all at the state and Congressional District level for any candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote. However, should Trump fall below 50 percent, either statewide or in a Congressional District, delegates will be allocated proportionally between the top vote getter and any other candidate who receives more than 20 percent of the vote.
Should Trump slip from 52 percent to, say 45 percent statewide, his delegate total could plummet from the ambitious 90 of 95 his campaign believes he will win, to a number as low as 50 to 60.
Such a performance could put Trump even further away from securing the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination than the 50 to 100 delegate deficit Breitbart currently anticipates.
Here in western New York, rain drizzles down in a grey sky, slowly melting the remaining snow on the ground, local talk radio is buzzing about the upcoming primary.
Tom Bauerle on WBEN radio, in Buffalo, a popular conservative talk show host, argues that Trump and Cruz need to “bury the hatchet” and form a Trump-Cruz ticket.
It’s the only ticket, Bauerle says, that can beat Hillary Clinton.
Many of the callers to his program this Wednesday afternoon seem to agree, but neither Cruz nor Trump have yet made Buffalo a priority.
This is particularly surprising for Trump, who recently named Buffalo area Rep. Chris Collins, the former Erie County executive who endorsed him in February, one of two members of Congress who will serve as his liaisons to Congress.
Rep. Tom Reed, the incumbent in New York’s Southern Tier district south and east of Buffalo, endorsed Trump in March.
Trump has reportedly hired a former upstate New York Congressman with a questionable reputation, John Sweeney, to come in handle the some of the political operations of his overall campaign:
But in a brokered convention where nearly anything goes, sometimes a stick is even better than a carrot. Maggie Haberman recently reported that Trump’s next expected hire is John Sweeney, a former congressman turned operative notable for starting the infamous “Brooks Brothers riot” in Miami during the 2000 recount—an attempt to pressure ballot counters to stop a manual recount. That he was hired despite his checkered past—which includes allegations of domestic abuse and drinking problems—suggests Trump is not above unleashing the hounds in Cleveland, if it comes to that.
Trump, however, appears to need a return to his basic message as much or more than he needs a heavy handed political operative to shore up his support in New York.
Cruz does not plan on coming to Buffalo until next week, according to the latest local press reports.
Trump will not arrive in the Buffalo until Sunday, April 17, two days before the April 19 primary, according to those same local press reports.
With three of the Empire State’s 27 Congressional Districts well within the Buffalo media market, it is more than a little perplexing that neither Trump nor Cruz are paying more attention to this politically critical region.
According to Trump’s schedule as it was posted on his website Wednesday, he was supposed to be in California, whose important primary will not be held until June 7, later this week.
In a Trump campaign that appears to have made a number of mistakes in recent weeks, a light schedule of appearances prior to the very critical April 19 New York primary raises another question about the campaign’s tactics.
On Thursday, Trump’s schedule on his website has scrubbed the California visit and now says “please check back later for an updated schedule.”