"This campaign is on the move," a hoarse Bernie Sanders told paper-flame-waving supporters in Long Island City the night before the New York primary. The line wasn’t meant to be literal, instead conjuring an image of the Vermonter riding a grumpy rainbow powered by small donors to the White House. But the campaign is moving, for the first time in ages. The 2016 presidential race has squatted in New York for three weeks, a staycation prompted by a rare intermission in the primary calendar, the many delegates waiting in New York, and the fact that all remaining candidates think they have a shot at winning the nomination. Which meant spending weeks amid one of the densest and most diverse clusters of voters in the country — a sardine can of dormant democracy that turned the normal speed-dating pace of primary campaigning into a Tinder sprint for ideological soul mates. Yesterday Hillary Clinton did eight events in a single day.
The candidates have been guzzling campaign concentrate too, but all that attention has failed to accomplish any huge change in the polls. Hillary Clinton still seems to lead the Democrats by double digits, and Donald Trump has over 50 percent of Republican support. We’ll have to wait until the end of the day to see if the data is right.
Turnout could be high — but so could the number of angry, disqualified voters
The extended visit during campaign season in a state unfamiliar with this level of attention has had other effects, large and small, whatever the outcome of the primary may be. New Yorkers eager to vote seem to have finally realized how hard the state makes it to do so. Independents eager to vote for Sanders or Trump had to register their intention to do so by October 9 — long before anyone thought those candidates would still be around. Usually no one pays attention to these rules, because hardly anyone votes in the primary. But with all the interest this year, the complaints have been rolling in.
"We’ve always gotten random complaints," says Susan Lerner, executive director of the New York outpost of democracy-focused nonprofit Common Cause, "but it wasn’t a significant volume until this year." The uptick started about a month ago, right when interest in the primary began to rumble. It’s not just Sanders and Trump voters who have been affected, either; even people on Lerner’s board missed the deadline, as did Trump’s own kids. Other voters are suing the state, saying they’ve been removed from party lists without their consent. Lerner adds that there are definitely going to be people trying to vote today who think they did everything right and will still be turned away. "We’re telling people not to yell at the poll workers," she adds.
Donald Trump presses buttons — and helps sell them too
In the world of campaign merchandise in New York, however, everything is hunky-dory. Especially for buttons. "It’s the [best] political year for buttons I’ve ever seen," says Mort Berkowitz, the "Button Man" of Times Square, who has been outside selling his original designs every day. "Far and away," Berkowitz says, his top seller is a button with "Trump’s hair in disarray that says ‘We Shall Overcomb.’ Whether you like him or dislike him, everyone likes to see his hair messed up." Pro- and anti-Trump buttons sell equally well, and positive Bernie and Hillary swag is also selling like crazy. "Nobody cares about Cruz," Berkowitz says, "and Kasich is nowhere on the radar." He’s already designed 545 buttons this year and plans to do another 800 by the end of the election cycle. The one button that Berkowitz wishes was selling better — he thinks it’s pretty funny — features Governor Chris Christie standing in front of Trump Tower as a doorman, with the caption, "Well, Donald Did Promise Me a Job."
Will he miss the primary when it leaves the state, given how good it is for business? "No, I won’t," Berkowitz says immediately. "I can get a little sleep."
Clinton asks voters to remember the ladies ...
On Monday afternoon, Clinton crammed hundreds of supporters into a Midtown hotel, their whoops echoing in the small space. The event was geared toward women — which quickly became obvious when you noticed that only women were standing on the stage behind her, that the candidate kept explaining why many of the issues on her platform were women’s and everybody's issues, and that Clinton was preceded by a warm-up act from a veritable Justice League of Women in Politics, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, and gun policy advocate Gabby Giffords. These women repeatedly said the words "first" and "make history" while giving their pitches for Clinton. The front-runner finished her speech by saying that the New York primary was special not only because it had been her "greatest honor" to serve the state, but because it was also where the Seneca Falls Convention took place. Clinton added that the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment was coming up in 2020. (She did not mention that she hoped to be running for reelection in that year too.)
Women, you won’t be surprised to learn, are usually more likely to turn out to vote in New York City. The crowd was clearly pumped up by the extended exposure to the campaign this month. One woman in the back of the room greeted most of Clinton’s policy proposals with shouts of "Yes! Yes! Yes! Sensible!" in such a way that it sounded like she was auditioning for a role in When Harry Met the Pragmatist.
After the event, members of the Secret Service carried their security equipment out of the building. As they descended the escalator, two tourists pointed and yelled, "Look! Secret Service!" Stay in Times Square too long and you become an attraction for those out of state too.
... and Bernie asks voters to remember his entire platform
A few hours later in Queens, Sanders proved once again that his campaign style is very different from Clinton’s, even if many of his policies are the same. Sound reverberates in the intimate spaces of a Clinton event; in Sanders’s outdoor rallies, noise carries. The crowd stretches out and the backdrops are photogenic. In this event, his farewell to New York, Trump World Tower hovered in the background across the East River, and the skyscrapers of Wall Street huddled in the distance. The walk to a Bernie rally feels somewhat like the stroll to a baseball stadium — especially now, after people in New York had gotten used to the size of a Bernie spectacle. Stands offer merchandise with "Bern" puns of varying degrees of cheesiness. People are even selling "Bern Water, straight from Vermont."
For Bernie, distilling his primary platform down to its most important points on Primary Eve entailed, per usual, making sure to list every issue on his platform at great length. Not that the crowd seemed to mind. If anything, Sanders supporters seem to enjoy knowing exactly what is going to happen at a rally. If people start throwing $27 in Monopoly money at Sanders when he starts talking about his average campaign donation, it could be the political equivalent of midnight showings of The Room.
Get a free Big Gulp with every vote cast
John Kasich said goodbye to New York in events upstate, which, along with the rest of Western New York, has also received outsize love this past month, if not at the intensity seen downstate. Ted Cruz, who has probably least enjoyed the chance to camp out in New York, mostly stuck to begging donors for money and going on TV. Both candidates, along with Sanders, will not be sticking around in New York for election night. In Buffalo, Donald Trump gave his final pitch to his home state: "I wrote this out, and it’s very close to my heart," he said. "Because I was down there and I watched our police and our firemen down at 7/11, down at the World Trade Center right after it came down. And I saw the greatest people I’ve ever seen in action."
Goodnight, New York primary. You’re drunk.