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Politics & Government

Voters Put Trump, Clinton In A New York State Of Mind

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Voters in New York state were very good to the front-runners of both parties last night. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were big winners. Trump won his home state with 60 percent of the vote and took the vast majority of the delegates that were at stake. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won her adopted home state by more than 15 points. And she increased her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. Here's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Donald Trump needed a big win in New York, and he got one.

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DONALD TRUMP: This has been an incredible evening. It's been an incredible day and week. We won all over New York state. New York state has problems, like virtually every other state in the union. Our jobs are being sucked out of our states. They're being taken out of our country, and we're not going to let it happen anymore. We're going to stop it.

LIASSON: Trump has been winning the delegate allocation process, but he's had a rocky couple of weeks in the delegate selection process. Ted Cruz has out-organized Trump in the county and state conventions that are choosing the actual people who will be delegates at the Cleveland convention this summer. If Trump can't reach the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot, Cruz is confident he'll have enough delegates lined up to vote for him on the second ballot, when most delegates become unbound and no longer have to vote the way their states did. These are the rules of the Republican Party, and Trump doesn't like them one bit.

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TRUMP: It's really nice to win the delegates with the votes, you know? It's really nice.

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LIASSON: Trump was relatively restrained last night. There were no insults lobbed at his opponents. He called Ted Cruz Senator Cruz, not Lyin' Ted. But he did keep up his war with the Republican establishment, which is hoping to deny him the nomination if he comes to Cleveland short of 1,237 delegates.

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TRUMP: Nobody should take delegates and claim victory unless they get those delegates with voters and voting. And that's what's going to happen. And you watch, because the people aren't going to stand for it. It's a crooked system. It's a system that's rigged. And we're going to go back to the old way. It's called you vote and you win.

LIASSON: Trump's message makes a lot of sense to a lot of Republican voters. In the New York exit polls, 72 percent said the nominee should be the candidate with the most delegates, not necessarily the one who gets to 1,237. And if Trump comes to Cleveland with close to that number, as he is on track to do, it will be very hard to deny him. On the Democratic side, New Yorkers gave their former senator a decisive victory.

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HILLARY CLINTON: The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch. And victory is in sight.

LIASSON: Bernie Sanders had turned out humongous crowds in New York. But that enthusiasm wasn't reflected in the results. New York was Sanders' last best chance to change the dynamic of the Democratic race. Now, many Democrats are worried that the new, aggressive tone Sanders is taking against Clinton will make it harder to unify the party in the fall. That problem was on Clinton's mind as she spoke to her supporters near Times Square last night.

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CLINTON: And to all the people who supported Sen. Sanders, I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us.

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LIASSON: Sanders had hoped to keep Clinton's margin to single digits, which would have been a big blow to her in her own home state. But that didn't happen. A downbeat Sanders talked to reporters after he returned home to Vermont last night.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Today we took Secretary Clinton on in her own state of New York. And we lost. I congratulate Secretary Clinton on her victory. Next week, we will be competing in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware. And we look forward to winning a number of those states. We believe we have the momentum, and we believe we have a path toward victory.

LIASSON: But it's hard to see the math that would make that path a reality. To beat Clinton, Sanders now needs about three-fifths of all the remaining pledged delegates. Sanders has the resources to stay in the race until the end, as Clinton did in her primary battle against Barack Obama in 2008. But Sanders is now facing pressure to campaign in a way that doesn't weaken Clinton for a general election.

A Clinton campaign spokesperson told NPR last night that Sanders' harsh, character-based attacks have been destructive to her. Clinton's unfavorable ratings are now almost as high as Donald Trump's. But the two front-runners are also in a stronger position today than at any previous point in their campaigns, and the states that vote next Tuesday look very good for both of them. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.