This is New York’s moment, and it is a rare one. With the state’s presidential primaries coming more than two months into the national nominating process, voters don’t often have a significant role in deciding who will represent either party in the general election, let alone both parties. But that’s the case this year, as Republican Ted Cruz catches fire in his attempt to overtake Donald Trump, and Democrat Bernie Sanders continues his unexpected surge, attempting to erase the still-significant lead held by Hillary Clinton.
In that contest, New York holds one of the nation’s big delegate prizes and Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city, is playing a role. Sanders was here Monday. Trump and Cruz are coming here to make their cases. They follow not just Hillary Clinton but former president Bill Clinton.
Presidential elections always offer a choice: Reagan versus Carter; Bush versus Dukakis; Bush versus Clinton; Obama versus McCain. Still, it’s rare that the choices are as stark as this year’s, with Sanders, the self-described Democratic socialist, taking on the more centrist Clinton, and the two leading Republicans – not to discount the potential influence of John Kasich – occupying political territory significantly further to the right than any nominee in more than 50 years.
That makes this election not just interesting or entertaining or disturbing, but actually momentous. This could be a watershed election. And, as the April 19 primary day approaches, Buffalo is in the spotlight. Its voice will be heard.
As of today, New Yorkers Clinton and Trump are the favorites to win, but, in this confounding political year, it’s unwise for any candidate’s supporters to assume victory is assured. Trump has taken a drubbing in recent weeks, as his penchant for spitball politics catches up with him. Cruz is showing new strength, and Kasich continues to offer himself to voters whose politics remain closer to the traditional Republican mainstream.
For the Democrats, meanwhile, Sanders has shown surprising strength, especially among younger voters. And Clinton, for all of her unquestioned intelligence, remains a lightning rod for criticism, even among Democrats. She carries political baggage, and after more than 25 years on the national political stage, she may seem less than fresh to many voters.
Each vote next week will help to determine not just who will be each party’s nominee, but also the party’s likelihood of success in November. It’s not often that a party wins a third consecutive term in the White House, but it happens, most recently when George H.W. Bush won the 1988 election after Ronald Reagan’s two terms in office.
The question for Democrats is, which candidate is more likely to allow them to retain the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Republicans need to decide what candidate will best allow them to wrest control from Democrats. If Sanders is the Democrats’ nominee, the November outcome may be a tossup. If it’s Clinton, both Trump and Cruz may have trouble winning the support of political centrists, whose votes often make the difference in presidential elections. But in this strange year, who knows?
All in all, this year’s presidential election carries unexpectedly profound implications for the country and – also unexpectedly – New Yorkers have a chance in this primary season to make their wishes known. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t often come around.
Next Tuesday’s voting is for registered party members only. Their opportunity is to declare to the nation what they want their party to stand for, and in this portentous year more than most, they have not only the ability and the right to speak up, but the obligation.