US presidential hopefuls made last-minute pitches in New York on Monday on the eve of the state’s most decisive primary in decades, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hoping to cut their rivals down to size.
The state’s 5.8 million registered Democrats and 2.7 million registered Republicans are eligible to vote Tuesday for their party’s nominee for the White House in a fraught race still competitive on both sides.
It shines an unprecedented spotlight on a state that normally has little sway in presidential campaigns in a year when three of the candidates -- Manhattan billionaire Trump, former senator Clinton and Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders -- can each claim New York as home.
The former secretary of state is steeling herself for a big win, determined to quash the momentum generated by her self-styled Democratic socialist rival who has won seven out of the last eight primary and caucus votes.
On Monday she appeared at a Manhattan hotel alongside New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand and former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head, to discuss women’s rights and raising incomes.
The Democratic establishment has swung behind the former first lady. She is endorsed by the New York mayor and on Monday the state governor joined former president Bill Clinton in hitting the campaign upstate.
While nationwide polls edge Clinton just 47-46% over the 74-year-old Sanders, in New York she leads by a whopping 53.7-40.9%, based on a RealClearPolitics poll average.
She also carried the state in 2008 against Barack Obama, who would go on to win the presidency.
“The margin will probably be a little tighter than people might expect, but we think we’re going to pull this out and that is going to be a very meaningful victory,” Clinton’s campaign press secretary Brian Fallon told CNN.
Clinton holds 1,790 delegates compared to 1,113 for Sanders, putting her on course to scoop the 2,383 needed to secure the party’s ticket.
Only California has more than the 247 Democratic delegates up for grabs in New York, including 44 super-delegates. Sanders desperately needs a win in the state of his birth to keep alive his hopes of winning the presidency.
On the Republican side, a somewhat toned-down Trump hopes that winning the majority of the 95 Republican delegates can lessen his chances of facing a contested nomination at the party convention in Cleveland in July.
Republicans in rural upstate areas and fallen manufacturing cities have warmed to his populist message despite a growing backlash among party elites opposed to his decisive campaign that has insulted women, Mexicans and Muslims.
On Monday he met minority representatives at his headquarters in Manhattan before a rally in Buffalo scheduled for the evening.
The 69-year-old tycoon commands a thumping home-state advantage at 52.6%, with Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz languishing at 22.9 and 17.9%percent respectively, according to RealClearPolitics.
“We’re going to win so much that you’re going to say Mr President please we’re winning too much,” he told a rally in the Hudson Valley on Sunday.
But Trump has repeatedly blasted Republican party rules as “rigged” as he has lost a string of recent delegate hauls to right-wing evangelical Cruz.
Cruz, who is widely disliked in New York for insulting its “values” earlier in the campaign, confined himself to only private meetings and television appearances in New York on Monday.
Sanders, who on Sunday addressed what his campaign said were 28,000 supporters in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, has another rally scheduled in Queens on Monday.
The Vermont senator has galvanized millions with his call for universal health care, free public college and campaign finance reform, exhorting youth voters and working people to get more involved in politics.
But he suffers a major disadvantage in New York, where Tuesday’s voting is closed to independents, many of whom have swung behind his message.
“If voter turnout is high, working people come out to vote, young people come out to vote, we can win this thing,” he told CNN.
But he signaled that he could be willing to swing behind Clinton, should she win the nomination, provided she take on causes that he has highlighted.
He said Clinton had “moved to the left in this campaign” but not gone far enough to propose solutions.
“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “The Clinton people are going to have to say, you know, maybe Bernie has a point,” he said.