Don’t worry about clumsy metaphors and awkward and predictable musical references. You won’t see them here as I start spreading the news that the presidential campaign has ended its pre-Broadway run and assumed a New York state of mind. No siree, no cliches here, as the candidates try to take their bites out of the Big Apple.
They’ve finished milking the votes out of Wisconsin. Donald Trump’s brutishness was done in by “Wisconsin nice,” but now he’ll be taking on Ted Cruz and John Kasich back on his home turf. We all know there’s no such thing as “New York nice.” Bernie Sanders also thrived in the Great White Way of Wisconsin, no surprise considering his audiences usually have the demographics of a folk music concert. But NYC is a tiny bit more diverse, not counting Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In addition, there’s a whole other part of the state outside the boroughs, which ever so faintly resembles America.
For three of the four candidates, this is a battle for hometown creds. As we’ve all heard, Trump, Hillary Clinton and Sanders have deep roots. If they can’t make it here, they can’t make it anywhere. Cruz, who’s from Texas, and way down in the polls in third place, will need some real chutzpah to be in contention here. He definitely has it, even though he and his evangelical followers probably don’t know what the word means.
As fun as the GOP brawl has been throughout, the Democrats are starting to have one of their own. Finally. Sanders has run up a series of victories, and Hillary is not at all pleased with him. Her problem is that she has to show her irritation over his really mild criticisms of her (compared to the Republicans’, certainly) while not feeding the impression that she feels entitled to the nomination without Sanders’ interference. Let’s face it: He’s been a big pest. Actually, “yuuuge.”
Sanders will waste no opportunity to shower his disgust on nearby Wall Street and will miss no chance of pointing out how cozy Hillary has been with the people he routinely demonizes. For a while there, they were trading ugly insults about whether the other was even “qualified” to be president. In New York, that passes for normal conversation.
Finally, it’s a Democratic debate that isn’t so polite, that actually promises to be down and dirty. Admit it, we like nasty. They’ll face off on the Thursday before the primary. Even the negotiations to set up the confrontation were snitty, so this promises to be hot. They’ll be “Cookin’ in Brooklyn.”
Beyond being mortified if they lose on their home turf, there’s a lot at stake for Clinton — and certainly Trump. Ted Cruz is a poor third in the polls, but if he somehow pulls off an upset in New York, the Donald Trump mystique starts looking like a big mistake. It would almost guarantee a brokered convention for the GOP in Cleveland. Trump already has talked about “riots.” The Democrats might have a similar dilemma if the Bern wins in New York and catches fire. Of course, that’s putting the Central Park buggy before the horse, but it’s conceivable that Hillary would go to Philadelphia and need the superdelegates, the party machine’s establishment, to put her over the top. In that case, a violent reaction might not be her biggest fear. Instead, she’d have to worry that disgusted Sanders supporters simply would spend Election Day at home out of spite.
It is true that the Empire State contest is not the last primary or even the one that is richest in delegates. That’s California, which doesn’t hold its vote until June. Usually, everything is decided beforehand, but not this year. That will be our story of the future, with a whole new set of cliches to torture. But right now, the spotlight is definitely on New York, New York, and the nasty battle to determine who’s king (or queen) of the hill, top of the heap.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist and commentator.