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Opinion Hillary Clinton’s secret weapon against Bernie Sanders: Democratic voters

(AFP Photo/Getty Images)


Bernie Sanders made the rounds on the Sunday shows reiterating his oft-made argument: He, not Hillary Clinton, is the candidate best positioned to take on Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. It’s true, as Sanders says, that a number of polls show him performing better against them in general election match-ups, though the significance of this is an open question.

This argument from Sanders, however, is crucial to understanding this new ad from Hillary Clinton that attacks Donald Trump by name, going hard directly at Trump’s xenophobia, demagoguery and chauvinism. The ad will air in New York City, home to around three million registered Democrats:

A new Clinton campaign ad attacks Republican contender Donald Trump and urges New Yorkers to vote in the April 19 Democratic primary (Video: Hillary Clinton)

This ad signals that Democrats will be free to go much harder at Trump than are his GOP rivals, who have been constrained from doing so by the inconvenient fact that a lot of GOP voters agree with Trump’s more wretched prescriptions and pronouncements. Dems speaking to a general election audience will not be similarly constrained.

But this ad also says something important about the remainder of the Democratic primaries, particularly the New York primary, which is set for April 19th. Many of them are closed to independent voters, meaning only registered Democrats can vote. In New York, Alex Seitz-Wald reports that Sanders supporters have worked hard to register new voters (who might be more inclined to vote for him) as Democrats, but that their efforts may have fallen short, because of the state’s overly restrictive voting rules:

There is no same-day registration in the state. Independents or members of third parties who want to vote as Democrats had to change their party registration by October 9. And new voters – another key Sanders voting bloc – had to register by March 25….
While state officials reported an unprecedented surge in new voter filings just ahead of last month’s deadline, overall voter growth was disappointing.  As of April 1, Democrats had added about 14,000 people to their rolls (out of close to 6 million registered voters) since the same day last year, according to Board of Elections data.

Sanders supporters say they’ll be able to compensate for this problem by “super-charging turnout among young people and other key Sanders groups,” Seitz-Wald reports. And that of course could happen. But throughout these primaries, Clinton has fared far better than Sanders in closed contests, in part because she wins among Democrats while Sanders wins among independents. (Sanders won in Wyoming over the weekend, but in this closed caucus the delegates ended up getting split evenly.)

Much of what you’re seeing right now from the Clinton campaign is best understood with this in mind. It helps explain why Clinton has taken to calling out Sanders for not being a Democrat. And it also helps explain the contours of the argument the two candidates are now having about electability.

Republicans know Hillary Clinton is not going to be indicted. They just can’t say so.

Sanders argues not just that general election polling shows him to be the stronger general election pick for Democrats, but also that his ability to win independents positions him better against any GOP nominee. This argument raises legitimate questions about Clinton’s potential weaknesses as a general election candidate, and the Clinton camp has not, to my knowledge, responded to it convincingly.

But the Trump ad above hints at how the Clinton camp expects Democratic voters to view the dispute over electability. After noting that Trump has said we should “punish” women who have abortions and has called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” it concludes: “With so much at stake, she’s the one tough enough to stop Trump.”

The Clinton camp is betting that Democratic voters in particular have a deep well of historical memories of her at war with Republicans for more than two decades, and that as a result, they will conclude that she should be entrusted with the task of defeating Trump, given how horrifying the prospects of a Trump presidency really are.


* BERNIE HIGHLIGHTS BROOKLYN ROOTS: The Daily News reports that the Sanders campaign is airing a new ad in New York that highlights his push for free college and a $15 minimum wage:

“Values forged in New York,” the ad’s narrator says as footage plays from a recent rally in the South Bronx where 18,500 cheering supporters gathered. “Brooklyn-born. Native son who knows what we know: We are all in this together.”
“New York — what makes it think bigger? Go bolder?” the narrator asks. “You do.”

Sanders sees winning Brooklyn as central to his hopes in the state, because nearly one million registered Democrats live there.

* HILLARY CRUISING IN NEW YORK, PENNSYLVANIA: New Fox News polls find that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by 53-37 in New York and by 49-38 in Pennsylvania. Two tidbits: In New York, Clinton leads among every demographic except men and voters under 45. In Pennsylvania, she holds a wide lead among union voters.  The polling averages have Clinton up by similar or larger margins in both.

Sanders would probably have to win Pennsylvania by seven and New York by four, while winning by large margins everywhere else, to close the delegate gap.

 * TRUMP CRUSHING IN NEW YORK, PENNSYLVANIA: The new Fox News polls also find Donald Trump leading John Kasich and Ted Cruz in New York by 54-22-15, and leading them in Pennsylvania by 48-22-20. This once again suggests Trump is headed for terrain that’s very favorable to him.

Meanwhile, Nate Cohn explains how Trump can still win the nomination outright if he racks up very big delegate margins in the northeastern states, followed by big wins in places like Indiana and California.

* TAKING NOMINATION FROM TRUMP COULD HURT GOP: A Reuters-Ipsos poll released over the weekend asked Donald Trump supporters what they would do if he wins a plurality of delegates but the nomination is given to someone else at a contested convention:

Sixty-six percent said they would vote for the candidate who eventually wins the nomination, while the remaining third were split between a number of alternatives such as not voting, supporting a third-party candidate, and switching parties and voting for the Democratic nominee.

One third say they’d shun the GOP nominee. That’s probably overstated, but this hints at how much damage to the GOP Trump could do if he decided to (but he’d never do that, would he?)

 * WHY REPUBLICANS ARE LEARNING TO LOVE TED CRUZ: Bloomberg Politics reports that Republicans are beginning to see Ted Cruz as their best and most likely alternative to Trump. Despite Cruz’s obvious flaws, here’s the upside that GOP strategists see:

Anti-Trump Republicans are beginning to realize that their last chance for a white knight may be Cruz, who, for many, is the original nightmare candidate. These strategists believe that, while the party may lose the presidency and the Senate with Cruz as the nominee, they’ll be in a better position to hold on to the House, re-elect their incumbent governors and protect their state legislative majorities. By this logic, he is a way to avoid the existential threat to the party posed by Trump’s outsider campaign.

A Cruz nomination gives vulnerable GOP lawmakers someone they can support without embarrassment, someone who might not cause millions of GOP voters to stay hoome. Of course, if Trump decides to wreak as much havoc as possible, that might do the same thing.

* A HILLARY INDICTMENT? PRECEDENT SUGGESTS OTHERWISE: Politico’s Josh Gerstein has an excellent look at previous cases in which the mishandling of secrets was prosecuted, concluding that Clinton’s case is unlikely to be one of them:

The relatively few cases that drew prosecution almost always involved a deliberate intent to violate classification rules….former prosecutors, investigators and defense attorneys generally agree that prosecution for classified information breaches is the exception rather than the rule, with criminal charges being reserved for cases the government views as the most egregious or flagrant….some experts on national security law….noted that none of the information was marked classified and that there’s no indication she was trying to send classified information to anyone not authorized to look at it.

Nonetheless, it remains a certainty in some quarters that some sort of email revelation that will destroy her candidacy is eternally just around the corner.
 * AND HILLARY BEATS TRUMP ACROSS A RANGE OF ISSUES: A new Associated Press poll finds that Clinton is favored over Trump on issues such as health care, immigration, and international relations. And:

Clinton has a slimmer lead over Trump on which candidate is trusted to protect the country, with 37 percent backing the Democrat and 31 percent backing the Republican….Much of Trump’s appeal with voters has rested on his broad pledge to “make America great again.” But when asked which candidate they trusted more to make the country great, 33 percent of Americans picked Clinton and 28 percent backed Trump.

Clinton is more trusted than Trump on national security and on “making America great again”? So Trump’s ubiquitous baseball hat emblazoned with that slogan is not enough to persuade general election voters? Oh well.

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail

CLEVELAND, OH - On the third day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, and Anne Holton, aboard the campaign bus in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday July 31, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)