Gov. John Kasich’s first visit to upstate New York last week was moved twice to accommodate a crowd larger than anticipated.
But that positive bit of news for Kasich, reported in The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Friday, was upstaged by a headline blaring “Trump to Visit,” announcing an event more than a week away.
For Kasich, the Ohio governor, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, that is how every day in the runup to the New York primary on April 19 seems to be playing out — with excruciating reminders that on Trump’s home turf, they will forever grasp for an edge that appears to recede.
Kasich spoke Friday to about 1,000 people in Syracuse, one of the biggest crowds of his campaign. But, Trump drew far more to an airport hangar in Rochester on Sunday, where he ripped the rules of the Republican nominating race that might allow an opponent who has fewer delegates than he has to win the nomination at the national convention.
“Today winning votes doesn’t mean anything,” Trump said. “It’s a corrupt deal going on in this country and it’s not fair to you people,” he said
Trump, who must win 67 percent of the remaining bound delegates to avoid a contested convention, hopes for a near sweep of New York’s 95 delegates, reversing the setbacks he suffered in Colorado on Saturday, where Cruz won all 34 delegates, and in Wisconsin on Tuesday, where the Texas senator also romped.
In New York polls, Trump has more than twice the support as Kasich or Cruz. Both his opponents trekked upstate this week because the demographics of the region seemed to offer them a slight opening, an unusual reversal from earlier states.
Whereas Trump struggled in previous primaries to appeal to affluent, well educated and suburban voters, while running stronger in rural areas, polls show him faring less well upstate than in New York City and Long Island.
Both culturally and economically, upstate New York has more in common with the Rust Belt, where deindustrialization has drained both jobs and people. It also includes dairy farms and university cities, and in non-presidential elections it leans Republican: 43 of 51 upstate counties voted for the Republican challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo two years ago, driven partly by opposition to tough new state gun restrictions he championed after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
In a speech here, Trump’s first upstate visit of the year, he spoke of thousands of lost factory jobs that have hurt the city, promised. “I would bring it back so fast,” and repeated his plan to slap 35 percent tariffs on U.S. companies that move factories offshore.
Citing companies that have left Rochester, which Trump said he had brushed up on during his trip here, he said the city “has lost more than half of its manufacturing jobs since 1997 due to NAFTA, Asian currency manipulation and China.”
Both of Trump’s rivals have targeted the region around Albany, where Cruz held a rally Thursday and Kasich will appear Monday.
“The capital district is ripe for the picking,” said Lynn Krogh, Kasich’s New York state director, who lives upstate.
Cruz, speaking in the Albany suburb of Scotia, omitted any mention of the state’s SAFE Act gun law, but warned that if Trump is the nominee, Republicans would lose by “double digits” to Hillary Clinton.
A young woman in the audience, in a gym at a private Christian school, held a “New York Values Ted Cruz” sign. It was a game effort to reboot Cruz’s earlier criticism of Trump as having liberal “New York values,” a remark that might have contributed to his victory in Iowa but is now haunting Cruz in New York.
Trump is also headed up the New York State Thruway (figuratively, at least), with a visit to Rochester on Sunday, where he was expected to renew criticism of trade deals that have cost industrial jobs.
Outside a Price Chopper market near Utica, a Mohawk Valley city that has seen its population decline significantly during the past 50 years, the Republican voters were a rough mirror of Trump’s polling advantage statewide: about two Trump supporters for each backer of the other two candidates.
“Maybe he can turn this damn country around,” said Ray Hale, an employee of the market, referring to Trump. Hoping to improve his own prospects, Hale moved to Florida several years ago, but found wages too low. “I got a roofing job paying 8 bucks an hour. Come on,” he said. “I was 50-some years old and I was carrying shingles up a ladder. I came back here.”
Peter Sobel, chairman of the Republican Party of Oneida County, which includes Utica, is one of 33 county chairmen and -women in the state whom the Trump campaign has announced as having endorsed the candidate.
A small-business owner, Sobel says Oneida County companies want lower taxes and oppose New York’s new $15 minimum wage, which Cuomo signed last week.
Sobel is also chief of the volunteer Whitesboro Fire Department, where he said support for Trump was strong. “We had our monthly meeting last night,” he said Wednesday. “Everybody’s leaning toward Donald Trump. They want to see change and they think he’s got what it takes to do it.”
Oneida County is part of a congressional district where the Kasich campaign believes it can hold Trump to less than a majority and pick up a delegate. New York’s Republican primary rules allocate three delegates to the winner of each of 27 districts if he takes more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the top finisher in a district collects two delegates and the runner-up gets one.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, a moderate Republican who represents the district, denounced both Trump and Cruz as too extreme. “Trump, I think, thinks he is God, and Cruz can’t be shamed because he thinks God speaks through him,” Hanna said.
He counts himself among the significant number of Republican primary voters who have said in exit polls that they won’t vote for either Trump or Cruz in November. But he is not committed to Kasich either.
Hanna, who is not seeking re-election, attributed support for Trump to the economic struggles of voters and the sense that he offered “revenge” against the political class.
Oneida County’s median household income is $49,000. “Real incomes haven’t gone up in 20, 30, 40 years,” Hanna said. “Real estate is declining because young people don’t stay here. People have homes for sale but nobody to buy them.”
He said the problems were long in the making, and the solutions were more complex than anything Trump had proposed.
Economic decline is not inexorable upstate. Last year, Cuomo announced a $2 billion investment by a nanotechnology firm near Utica that promised 1,000 new jobs.
Austin Dee, 39, a Utica native, who was also shopping at Price Chopper, did not leave the area as many of his high school classmates did. An insurance executive, he raved about the lower cost of living compared with the rest of the state.
“They’re building big beautiful homes” in the Utica suburbs, said Dee, who supports Hillary Clinton. “I’m not real impressed with anything that’s going on in the Republican Party over the last 20 years,” he said.
On Friday evening, Kasich spoke to about 1,000 people in Syracuse, one of the biggest crowds of his campaign, but he scarcely touched on New York issues. He predicted he would emerge as the nominee at an open convention once delegates focus on “who’s going to keep us from getting obliterated in the fall.”