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Presidential Campaign Moves From Wisconsin Nice To New York Nasty


The Democratic presidential campaign is no longer so nice. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have criticized each other, but within limits. Now, as each is questioning whether the other is qualified to be president, we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are they saying?

LIASSON: Well, compared to the Republican race, this is pat-a-cake. But Bernie Sanders said that Hillary Clinton was not qualified to be president. He gave a whole lot of reasons - her vote for the Iraq war, her campaign contributions from Wall Street. Her campaign said this was a new low. The Sanders campaign had said that Clinton had started this line of attack, but in fact, she had merely declined several times in an interview to say whether she thought Sanders was qualified or not. Sanders' campaign manager also said that Clinton's ambition would destroy the Democratic Party, and that was a remark that made many women's ears perk up, since the word ambition is never used negatively to describe a man.

INSKEEP: Well, isn't this a concern in any primary, Mara Liasson, that you make attacks that the other side is going to recycle in a general election? You can see Republicans now quoting Bernie Sanders if Hillary Clinton's the nominee or, for that matter, quoting Hillary Clinton if Bernie Sanders is the nominee.

LIASSON: Absolutely, and Democrats worry that if this tone continues, it may also make it harder to unify the party after the convention. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, she will really need Bernie Sanders supporters in the fall. It also is a result of the fact that New York matters a lot - a lot more than anyone thought it would. Bernie Sanders has won the last seven - seven of the last eight contests. But he's still way behind Clinton in the popular vote and in the delegate count. So if he can beat her in her home state or come extremely close, he might make some progress convincing those superdelegates that Clinton is not a stronger general election candidate, as they thought. That's really one of the reasons that you see the tensions rising. This is Sanders' last good chance.


Hey, Mara, it's David Greene in Peoria, Illinois.

LIASSON: Hi, David.

GREENE: I have a - hi. I've got a question. I mean, we're looking really at how place affects a presidential election. And I'm in a place that's very distinctive - the state of Illinois. The candidates, as you said, are in New York, and it sounds like, you know, the backdrop place really does matter when it comes to a campaign.

LIASSON: Oh, it does. And New York is so much more intense and in-your-face than other political climates. And since they've come to New York, the candidates in both parties have learned a lot about New York's exotic customs. Ted Cruz learned that a Bronx cheer is really a jeer. He also learned about the hazing ritual known as the tabloid headline. This week, the Daily News front-page headline said take the F U train, Ted.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).


LIASSON: John Kasich also learn the joys of stuffing your face with lots of ethnic food, and he wisely did not use a knife and fork to eat a pizza. And Bernie Sanders learned that it's no longer necessary to use a token to ride the subway. And Hillary Clinton actually did ride the subway, if only for two stops.

INSKEEP: There used to be tokens when Bernie Sanders was growing up in New York. Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Liasson