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Politics & Government

Trump, Clinton Put Distance Between Themselves And Challengers

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, we should start spreading the news here that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won their party primaries in New York State yesterday. And we're going to spend some time this morning talking about what those results mean for two front-runners, as well as their opponents, who are all vowing to fight on. Let's turn now to two political veterans, Democratic pollster Margie Omero and Republican pollster Jim Hobart, who are both in the studio with me. Good morning to you both.

MARGIE OMERO: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming in at an early hour. We appreciate it. Let me ask you both, if I can, the same question to start off with. And that would be, just to kind of summarize, how would you describe what happened in New York yesterday in just a sentence? Margie, I'll start with you.

OMERO: Well, big wins, but probably not big changes in the actual races on either side.

GREENE: OK - Jim?

JIM HOBART: This is like a focus group question (laughter).

GREENE: You're used to those, right?

HOBART: Exactly. I would say a big night in the city and state that made Donald Trump for him. But I agree with Margie that it's not something that's going to change the trajectory of either race.

GREENE: OK, well, let's - I want to get back to both of those points. Let's take a listen to some of the sounds from the Republicans last night. As you said, a big win for Trump, and my colleague Sarah McCammon was with him.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: In front of the famous golden escalators at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Donald Trump made his entrance to the crooning of Frank Sinatra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) ...In a city...

MCCAMMON: He said he was grateful to his home state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: People that know me the best - the people of New York, where they give us this kind of a vote.

MCCAMMON: Surrounded by his family and other supporters, Trump thanked his campaign staff. The campaign is coming off a difficult stretch, where Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been navigating the complex nomination process to pick off delegates around the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: My team has been amazing. And, you know, it's actually a team of unity. It's evolving, but people don't understand that.

MCCAMMON: Trump has been transforming his campaign in recent days, bringing in new hires to focus on the delegate fight. But in the golden glow of his New York victory, Trump dismissed his rivals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We don't have much of a race anymore, based on what I'm seeing on television. Sen. Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated.

MCCAMMON: Neither Cruz nor Ohio Gov. John Kasich are giving up so fast. Short of clinching the nomination themselves, they're still hoping to force Trump to an open convention. Kasich's team says his second-place finish in New York is a sign that he's best suited to take on Trump in several upcoming Northeastern primaries. Cruz is also looking ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: God bless New York, and God bless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

MCCAMMON: Cruz spent the evening holding what the campaign called a Pennsylvania kickoff in Philadelphia, where he opened with themes Trump has been stressing - joblessness and the collapse of the manufacturing industry. He talked about the outsider energy that has dominated this campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: The people in state after state have made it clear. They cry out for a new path.

MCCAMMON: Trump's win in New York is a boost for his campaign and makes his path to the nomination a little clearer. But he's not there yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: So we're going to celebrate for about two hours. Then, early in the morning, I get up, and we begin working again. Thank you, everybody, and thank you, New York. We love New York.

MCCAMMON: Trump will spend today in Indiana and Maryland - two states that vote in the coming weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK SINATRA SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

GREENE: All right, that was my colleague Sarah McCammon reporting on the Republicans. We should just keep that music underneath all of us as sort of a soundtrack to this discussion. I'm with Democratic strategist Margie Omero and Republican strategist Jim Hobart. And Jim, I mean, Donald Trump clearly there wants to make it seem like this is almost over. But you said you agreed with Margie at the beginning that it's not almost over. I mean, has anything changed at all after yesterday?

HOBART: I think that at this point, it's a race to 1,237 delegates for Donald Trump. And it looks like he will win either 89 or 91 delegates in New York, depending on the outcome of one congressional district. So sure, one thing has changed - he's closer to that magic number. Is he necessarily that much closer than he was on Monday? I don't think so because most projections had him at around 85 delegates, so maybe six delegates closer.

The states coming up next week are going to be states that are also strong for Donald Trump. Rhode Island might be the strongest state in the country for him. He's going to do well in places like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland also. But then the calendar shifts again, and a state like Indiana is arguably the most crucial state left on the primary calendar on the Republican side. And there's also states like Nebraska, where Sen. Cruz is going to do much better. And it'll be interesting to see in some of these mid-Atlantic states if Kasich gets any type of a boost. They're states that are better fits for him than they are for Sen. Cruz.

GREENE: So, curious - Rhode Island, the best state for Trump - why is that?

HOBART: Rhode Island voters are as fed up with politicians as any other state in the country. It's tough to say that because so many states are fed up with their state politicians, but Rhode Island's a state where they have plenty of past governors and plenty of past leaders of the state legislature who have gone to jail. And so they're ready for something different. And Donald Trump certainly represents that.

GREENE: Margie Omero, anything you saw that makes Donald Trump a more formidable opponent if he is indeed the nominee, if you're looking at this from the Democratic side?

OMERO: Well, for a while people have been saying, well, Trump hasn't been able to get a majority of support in previous states. He did that last night. He did so well in New York, I guess he's thinking if he can make it there he can make it anywhere, maybe.

GREENE: Very nice.

OMERO: And so, you know, I don't know if that translates, though, to a full groundswell of support around the country, but it does show that Kasich and Cruz, who made an effort to pick off some congressional races - some congressional seats to get some delegates - really couldn't do it. Their food efforts - the matzo and the, you know, Arthur Avenue deli - it just wasn't enough. And so is that a sign that the #NeverTrump Movement that is supposed to be really trying to be energized recently is simply unable to do it?

GREENE: All right, well, let's turn to the Democrats now. My colleague Tamara Keith was waiting last night for the front-runner to come out and speak.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This is what it sounded like when Hillary Clinton entered the ballroom for her Empire State victory speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRE STATE OF MIND")

ALICIA KEYS: (Singing) ...Now you're in New York.

KEITH: Clinton didn't just win in her adopted home state - she won big.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Today, you proved once again there's no place like home.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: The margin of victory was larger than most had been expecting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: We've won in every region of the country.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: From the North, to the South, to the East, to the West - but this one's personal.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: New York is where Bernie Sanders' recent win streak hit a wall. And for Clinton, it cemented her status as a front-runner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: Because of you, this campaign is the only one, Democrat or Republican, to win more than 10 million votes.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: For Sanders, the path to the nomination is now quite narrow, with not much time left to cut into Clinton's large lead in pledged delegates. Late last night, he flew home to Vermont.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Good evening.

KEITH: Sanders said he hadn't been home in a long time, and he needed to take a day off and recharge. In a short gaggle with local press, Sanders is congratulated Clinton on her win, but raised concerns about the closed primary system in New York preventing independents from voting. And he made it clear he isn't done fighting to win the Democratic nomination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: So we lost tonight. There are five primaries next week. We think we're going to do well. And we have a path toward victory, which we are going to fight to maintain.

KEITH: The question and challenge is whether he can do well enough. Clinton's campaign is hoping Sanders tones down the attacks on her judgment, fundraising and Wall Street speeches as he wages that battle. Brian Fallon is press secretary for the Clinton campaign.

BRIAN FALLON: Senator Sanders has every right to remain in the race. However, I do think he has an obligation to conduct the campaign in a more high-minded way.

KEITH: Clinton's team believes the tone the campaign took on in the days leading up to New York was destructive and could harm the Democratic nominee in November.

GREENE: That was NPR's Tamara Keith. Let me turn, now, to Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster who's with me in the studio. And Margie, I hear the word harmful. I mean, there was a notion that this long fight would be good for whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee - to make them stronger. Are you still feeling that way?

OMERO: You know, maybe it's because I'm from New York and New Jersey, this doesn't really strike me as kind of a gloves-off, bruising contest when you compare with what we've seen on the Republican side, where people have been sort of going New York on each other for a very long time.

And if you look at the exit polls, that confirms that. Far more exit - folks in New York in the exit polls said that they feel the primary has energized them. And they feel good about both candidates. On the Republican side, it's reversed. Far more people say the primary has been divisive. And actually, the Republican primary calmed down just a hair in New York, while the Democratic primary got a little bit more testy. So I think this has been good for Democrats. I don't really see this has been harmful for anyone other than potentially the Sanders campaign.

GREENE: Jim Hobart, let me turn to you and give you the final word - about 30 seconds left. I mean, Donald Trump we heard earlier talking about - he had a team of unity. I mean, is the Republican Party any closer to being unified?

HOBART: Not at this point, no. I don't think so. I think that there is some - could be some growing acceptance for Donald Trump. It'll be interesting to see how he does in some of these states. Does he top 50 percent in the Connecticut and the Delawares? But there is still a #NeverTrump Movement who was saying yesterday, hey, it's on to the next states. There's going to be a lot of focus for them on Indiana and then a lot of focus on California especially.

GREENE: OK, Republican pollster Jim Hobart of Public Opinion Strategies, Democratic pollster Margie Omero of Purple Strategies, thank you both for coming in this morning. We really appreciate it.

HOBART: Thank you.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.