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New York A 'Turning Point' For Democrat Race


The presidential campaigns have moved their road shows to New York. Tuesday's primary looms. The outcome there could start to solidify the leads of the front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But as the Trump campaign has discovered in Colorado, every delegate counts and the count could be close. Speaking of counting, we've got our man with the abacus, NPR's Domenico Montanaro, our doyen of delegates. Domenico, thanks very much for being with us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: All eyes on the Empire State of New York, your home state. Anything going to be clear on the national campaign after Tuesday?

MONTANARO: Well, I think that this is the critical time in this primary race on both sides because on the Democratic side, this primary in New York, it's Hillary Clinton's home state. It is a must win for her. If she doesn't win, it changes the narrative. She doesn't want that to go to Bernie Sanders. Even though it doesn't change the math very much where she's got a pretty substantial lead in the pledged delegate race, this is the key time in this election, in this primary fight. I think that you're going to see that this is a turning point.

If Bernie Sanders is able to pull off an upset in New York, that certainly changes the narrative and puts her on her back foot. But as you move into the states the following week on the 26 - places like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut - if she's able to pull off New York and able to sweep through most of those states on the 26, those big states in the Northeast, you're going to have a lot of people looking at that and saying, OK, mathematically, it's not over.

Sure there's a chance for Bernie Sanders if he gets something like 60-65 percent of pledged delegates. But mathematically, it won't be over. But you will know who the Democratic nominee is at that point, and it will be Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side of the race, this is a time where Donald Trump, he needs to get as many delegates as possible out of New York so that he can shrink that number to try to get to that majority of 1,237, which he's had a very difficult time because Ted Cruz has really picked off a lot of delegates in a lot of caucus states that Donald Trump hadn't anticipated.

SIMON: Maybe it's just in the celery soda in New York, but the Democratic campaign seems to have gotten more contentious. And I wonder if there are people in that party that are worried about the two sides becoming irreconcilable.

MONTANARO: Something about New York, right? They sort of tell it like it is. Yeah, I think that - especially after that debate that you saw - you have some Democrats starting to wonder what this could mean for Hillary Clinton. You know, Hillary Clinton has said that she's not a natural candidate. Bernie Sanders has had all the success with the message that he's been running on, especially those corporate ties, her speeches to Wall Street. There's the chance - and a lot of Democrats are worried - that Bernie Sanders could nick Hillary Clinton permanently and do permanent damage.

SIMON: And on the Republican side, the rhetoric from the Trump campaign is really getting strong about the system. Mr. Trump has called the system rigged and unfair even though he's won a lot of delegates.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and you have the RNC coming out and saying it's the campaign's responsibilities to know what the rules are. You know, it's really a fascinating thing to have the front-runner in the race take shots at the party structure and the party chairman to say that it's rigged and corrupt. And that could lead to real problems in Cleveland if Donald Trump isn't the nominee.

SIMON: Donald Trump complained specifically about Reince Priebus, right, the head of the Republican National Committee, said he ought to be ashamed of himself.

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's kind of an amazing thing. I mean, you just don't see a front-runner for the nomination go after the party chairman, after the establishment, to really call out the system. But you know what? It's part of why Donald Trump has brought in more professional staff, people who understand the system, so that they can try to gather up those delegates and try to hold off someone like Ted Cruz who's been really running a very effective campaign, trying to pick off those delegates, if not on first ballot (laughter), then on second, third and even fourth ballot.

SIMON: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much for being with us.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.