The pollsters will suggest that 2016 primary politics in New York is a done deal, all safely tucked away in the back pocket of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Not so fast. There are plenty of people inside Schenectady County who will tell you that a lot can happen before primary day comes to the Empire State on April 19, and with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders surprising Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, in last Tuesday’s Michigan primary, who knows what’s in store.
“Polls are tricky, and yes, I was very happy [Tuesday] night,” said Schenectady resident Josephine Moore, whose preferred candidate, Sanders, trailed Clinton in Michigan, 57 percent to 40 percent according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released last Tuesday before eking out a 2-percentage-point win (50-48). “Michigan saw a record turnout, so I don’t think anyone was expecting those kind of numbers. Our plan is to keep on doing what we’re doing, register as many people as we can, get the word out about Bernie, and let people make the decision that is best for them.”
The Michigan contest was an open one, which means voters had to be registered but could vote in either party’s primary. New York, however, is a closed primary, meaning registered voters are restricted to selecting a candidate from their party only. That makes the New York primary a little bit easier to predict than Michigan, but Siena pollster Steve Greenberg, whose team released its findings for New York last Monday and showed Clinton with a 21-point lead and Trump with a 27-point edge, isn’t promising anything.
“My sympathies go out to the Michigan pollsters because I’ve been there,” said Greenberg, who along with Don Levy is in charge of the Siena Research Institute. “I haven’t looked at their methodology and I have no clue in terms of specifics on what happened in Michigan. But primaries are brutal. Whenever Don and I do one here we’re dying a little bit each day and hoping, ‘please, please, be close.’ General elections are much easier.”
Sanders vs. Clinton
The group Moore is affiliated with, “New York Capital Region for Bernie,” was formed last summer and has been busy ever since trumpeting Sanders’ message.
“I changed my registration just so I could vote for Bernie in the primary,” said Moore, who had been a member of the Green Party. “I’ve liked him for a couple of years now because of his positions and his principles. I was so over the moon when he announced his candidacy. He really wants to help the middle class become strong again.”
Helping the middle class is also a part of the Clinton campaign’s talking points, and in Schenectady County the Democratic Party endorsed the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state a long time ago.
“We were the first county in New York to endorse her last year,” said Niskayuna Town Supervisor Joe Landry, the Schenectady County Democratic Chairman. “I believe Hillary is rock-solid around here. We have meetings occasionally with about 35 to 40 people from our community, we make nominations and talk about why we should support a candidate, and Hillary’s support has always been there. There may be a few people who like Bernie, but there was never a doubt that Hillary was our overwhelming choice.”
Can Trump be beat?
As for the Republicans in Schenectady County, Committee Chairman Michael Cuevas announced last week that his group was endorsing Marco Rubio, even though the Siena poll has Trump with a substantial lead over the Florida senator and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lags even further behind.
“We considered Senator Rubio the most viable candidate for the Republican Party some months ago, and I have supported him for a while now,” said Cuevas. “I think there is a Trump-Rubio divide within the county, and not too many people are talking about Ted Cruz. The Siena poll also used 800 likely registered voters and I don’t know if that’s the best way to conduct a poll. People change their mind, and you don’t know if those people polled are actually going to vote.”
While Cuevas is hopeful of a Rubio surprise on April 19, another registered Republican, Dr. Lyle Barlyn, a retired surgeon from Schenectady, is casting his vote for Kasich.
“I think Trump is on the track to win the primary, but I don’t think he can win the presidency,” said Barlyn, who changed his political affiliation a couple of years ago from Democrat to Republican. “The smart money now, if you’re looking for someone to derail Trump, is on Kasich. Asking people to vote for Rubio or Cruz is a waste of time. Kasich is a reasonable person. To me he’s the person that a lot of older people are going to vote for. For me it’s a no-brainer.”
Barlyn had been a registered Democrat and only changed recently because of his dislike for Clinton.
“There are plenty of Democrats I like, but I don’t trust her,” Barlyn said of Clinton. “I also know there are a lot of people for Trump according to the polls, but I don’t know any of them, maybe one or two guys. And I absolutely do not support Trump. Kasich is the guy who makes sense to me.”
Still time to register
Anyone who isn’t registered to vote in New York’s primary has until March 25 to do so. The governor’s office recently released a statement urging those unregistered — or those wishing to change their political affiliation — to visit MyDMV online.
“Thanks to New York state’s online portal, it has never been easier for residents to register to vote and participate in the democratic process,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in the release. “The ability to vote and choose our representation is one of the most important rights that we are afforded as Americans and I encourage all eligible New Yorkers to make sure they are registered ahead of April’s presidential primaries.”
That makes perfect sense to Sanders supporters like Moore.
“We are ramping up to begin going door-to-door to let people know about Bernie and to make sure they are registered,” she said. “We want to increase voter participation, especially in those marginalized areas where Bernie hopes to impact the people in a positive way. We don’t feel he’s being covered fairly by the mainstream media so we have to get out the word.”