NEW YORK — From a car wash in Queens to a hockey arena in Buffalo, both parties’ presidential candidates spread out across New York Monday in a final quest for votes, a surreal scene for a state that hasn’t experienced contested White House primaries in decades.
For Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, victories in New York Tuesday could help quiet critics who have questioned their strength as front-runners. Each has suffered losses in recent contests that emboldened their rivals, though they still lead in delegate counts and are favored in New York.
Clinton, who represented the state as a senator for eight years, spent the final hours of campaigning trying to drive up turnout among women and minorities, her most ardent supporters. Since Sunday, she’s danced to Latin music at a Brooklyn block party, vowed to defend abortion rights to female supporters in Manhattan, prayed at black church in Westchester, drunk a bubble tea at a dumpling shop in Flushing and cheered newly unionized workers in Queens.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” she said Monday after greeting workers at the Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube in Queens. “Tell your friends and your family, everyone, to please vote tomorrow.”
Clinton’s campaign sees New York as a make-or-break moment for the Democratic race. A loss in her adopted home state would be a devastating political blow. But a big win would bolster her delegate lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and put her closer to becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major political party.
Sanders has rattled off a string of wins in recent primaries and caucuses. But unless he can topple Clinton in a state like New York, where 247 Democratic delegates are up for grabs, he faces increasingly limited opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.
While polling shows Clinton with a comfortable lead in New York, both her campaign and Sanders’ readied for a closer outcome.
“Let’s look at the real poll tomorrow,” Sanders said on NBC’s “Today Show.” ”Generally speaking, polling has underestimated how we do in elections.”
For Trump, New York is an opportunity to rebound from a trying stretch for his campaign — and with an exclamation point. The biggest question for him heading into Tuesday is whether he captures more than 50 percent of the vote statewide, which would put him in strong position to win all of the state’s 95 GOP delegates.
Trump was closing his New York campaigning with an evening rally in Buffalo, where thousands were expected to pack the city’s hockey arena to catch a glimpse of the billionaire businessman. He’s spent the past week emphasizing his ties to New York, particularly New York City, where he was born and where buildings bear his name.
“We love this city,” he said Monday in brief remarks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower. “You look at the other folks that are running, they couldn’t care less about New York.”
A big win for Trump is crucial if he hopes to clinch the nomination before the party’s convention in July. If the race isn’t settled by then, he faces the very real prospect of losing to Ted Cruz, whose campaign is mastering the complicated process of lining up individual delegates who could shift their support to the Texas senator after the first round of convention balloting.
In New Mexico, for example, well-connected GOP officials say Cruz, as well as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is already courting would-be delegates in case of an open national convention. Trump’s campaign is nowhere to be seen, according to Republicans in the state.
Cruz, who infamously panned Trump’s “New York values” earlier in the primary, was bracing for a tough showing. He was already looking ahead on the primary calendar, spending Monday campaigning in Maryland, where voters head to the polls next week.
Trump leads the GOP race with 744 delegates, ahead of Cruz with 545 and Kasich with 144. It takes 1,237 to win the GOP nomination.
Among Democrats, Clinton has accumulated 1,758 delegates to Sanders’ 1,076. Those totals include both pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates, the party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their state votes.
Heading into Tuesday’s primary, Sanders needs to win 68 percent of the remaining delegates if he hopes to clinch the Democratic nomination. It takes 2,383 to win.