New York (AFP) – Frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton embarked on a campaign blitz in New York Sunday for the state’s crucial primary as Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders battles to keep his White House dream alive.
The overwhelmingly Democrat state votes Tuesday in its most decisive presidential primary in decades as Trump faces the prospect of a contested nomination for the Republican party and with Sanders pinning Clinton into a tighter race than she could once have imagined.
Trump, the Manhattan billionaire, needs to win as many of the 95 Republican delegates up for grabs in the primary to increase his chances of clinching the party nomination before the July convention.
The 247 Democrat delegates in New York, plus 44 superdelegates, are likely to be won mostly by Clinton, giving the former secretary of state and New York senator an unassailable lead over Sanders.
Although nationwide polls give Clinton a lead of just 47-46 percent over her self-declared Democratic socialist rival, in New York she leads a whopping 53-39 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics poll average.
Clinton, who spent Saturday at a lavish fundraiser in Los Angeles hosted by Hollywood heart throb George Clooney and his lawyer wife Amal, has a string of campaign stops in New York on Sunday.
In a packed afternoon of public appearances, she is booked to appear with local members of Congress in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and finish with an LGBT event in Manhattan’s West Village.
“I’m very hopeful,” she told ABC television when asked how sure she was of a victory. “I love being in New York. I love campaigning in New York, downstate, upstate, everywhere in the state.”
She looked beyond primary season to the November general election, saying she was confident she could unite the Democratic Party despite increasing acrimony between her camp and Sanders’s.
“Let’s keep in mind what’s most important here,” she told ABC. “That is defeating whoever the Republicans put up,” she added.
“I’m going to hope to secure the nomination and then to work to win the support of the voters who supported Senator Sanders.”
Trump was booked Sunday to make appearances on Staten Island, New York’s most isolated borough, then tour his former boarding school, the New York Military Academy, and lead a rally in Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley. On Monday he is scheduled to return to Buffalo, considered the heartland of his support upstate.
– Delegate race –
Sanders, fresh from a visit to the Vatican where he briefly met Pope Francis, is to address a giant rally in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park before appearing at another rally and concert on Long Island on Monday.
CNN reported that his supporters in Los Angeles showered Clinton’s motorcade with dollar bills as she drove to the fundraiser hosted by Clooney, where the top ticket cost $350,000 per couple.
Sanders has ripped into Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and his call for campaign finance reform is a cornerstone of his campaign, which has galvanized young voters across the country.
But he has been unable to point concretely to any decision that Clinton made as New York senator from 2001-09 that shows she favored banks because of donations she received.
“She voted for a bad bankruptcy legislation,” Sanders told CNN Sunday. “But — and whether that is a result of contributions from Wall Street or elsewhere, you know, no one can say that,” he admitted.
On the Republican side, Trump leads the national polls with 40 percent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has 30 percent and Ohio Governor John Kasich has 21 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics average.
In New York, Trump commands a thumping home state lead at 53 percent, with Kasich and Cruz languishing at 22 and 17 percent respectively, alarming the Republican establishment opposed to his divisive, controversial campaign that has insulted women, Muslims and Mexicans.
On Saturday they were bolstered when Cruz picked up more delegates in his determination to chip away at Trump’s lead, winning all 14 that were up for grabs at the Republican state convention in Wyoming.
The right-wing evangelical now has 553 delegates against 758 for Trump, according to CNN. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to win the party’s presidential nomination.
Trump, speaking on Fox News, blasted “the rigged and boss-controlled” Republican primaries that he says are stacked against him.
“The best states for Donald Trump are in front of us,” his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Fox News on Sunday.
But Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus, speaking on CNN, accused the Trump campaign of peddling “rhetoric and hyperbole.”