Tuesday’s New York presidential primaries are the most important in decades – but they’re also hugely complicated. Here’s a look at what you need to know to understand the results.
What’s at stake?
In one way, it’s simple. There are 95 delegates at stake on the Republican side and 291 on the Democratic side. But that’s only part of the story.
For the Republicans, three delegates will be at stake in each of the state’s congressional districts, for a total of 81. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in a congressional district, he will get all three delegates. Otherwise, the winner will get two and the runner-up will get one – or if the vote is roughly tied three ways, each candidate will get a delegate. A total of 14 “at large” and “automatic” delegates will be apportioned according to the statewide results.
On the Democratic side, each congressional district gets between five and seven delegates, depending on the number of Democrats in each district. Those delegates will be apportioned parallel with the popular vote in each district. In addition, there are 54 at-large delegates and 30 “pledged party leader or elected official (PLEO)” delegates, which will be apportioned proportionately, according to the statewide primary results. The state also has 44 “superdelegates” – top elected officials and party leaders who can choose which candidate to support regardless of the primary results.
Why does it matter?
The New York primaries matter for the first time in nearly a quarter century because of their timing and the competitiveness of both the Republican and Democratic races.
This is the first time in memory that a competitive New York primary has stood alone on the primary calendar rather than sharing a date with other states, and the first time in years that it could play a pivotal role in both races.
On the Republican side, the race gives front-runner Donald Trump – a New Yorker – a chance to haul in a huge number of delegates at a time when he desperately needs them. His opponents, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, want to stop Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination, a goal that became much more difficult for Trump when he lost big to Cruz in the Wisconsin primary two weeks ago. The New York primary will give Trump the chance to regain his momentum and – if he wins big enough – perhaps get back on track to securing the nomination.
The contest could be a momentum-shifter on the Democratic side, too. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has won seven of the last eight contests, but in doing so, he’s barely dented Hillary Clinton’s big lead in the race for the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the nomination. New York is Clinton’s chance to regain her momentum in the state she represented in the U.S. Senate – or Sanders’ chance to build on his momentum and get Democratic leaders really worried about Clinton’s vulnerabilities.
What are the main differences between the candidates?
Trump has defined the Republican race with his braggadocio and his boldness. Quite simply, he’s gone where no mainstream candidate has gone before: proposing a wall at the Mexican border, the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, a temporary ban on Muslim immigration and a radical reworking of the nation’s trade deals. Cruz offers something very different: a tea party platform not unlike Trump’s on immigration, but rife with right-wing ideas such as a rewrite of the tax code that would eliminate the IRS while establishing the moral equivalent of a national sales tax. Kasich, meanwhile, is the kinder, gentler Republican of old, with a more traditional focus on tax- and budget-cutting.
For the Democrats, it’s all a matter of degree. Sanders is the bold idealist, pushing to break up the big banks, to make tuition free at public colleges and to nationalize health care. Clinton is the careful realist who offers more modest Wall Street reform, a college affordability plan built around loan refinancing and tweaks to Obamacare.
Where have the candidates been campaigning?
In every major city in the state. While statewide campaigns traditionally have focused heavily on New York City and its surrounding suburbs, the primary race on both sides of the aisle has been a strategic grab for delegates wherever they may be available. That’s why Cruz campaigned in the heavily Democratic South Bronx – where, oddly, there are as many GOP delegates at stake as in the conservative Western New York district represented by Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. And it’s why Sanders held rallies in Kingston and Binghamton, burghs usually seen as too small for a major political rally.
A much bigger prize than New York comes next. April 26 will be “Mid-Atlantic Tuesday,” where five states will have primaries with a grand total of 172 Republican delegates and 462 Democratic delegates at stake.
Pennsylvania will be the biggest prize, but Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island will vote that day, too, in primary contests that are – like New York – thought to favor the front-runners, Trump and Clinton.