Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton staged dueling New York City rallies ahead of the state’s pivotal presidential primary, with the Vermont senator drawing thousands of supporters in a show of force for his self-proclaimed political revolution.
Mr Sanders’ campaign said his rally in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park brought out 27,000 people, one of the largest gatherings in support of the 74-year-old democratic socialist, who has galvanized Democrats and independents alike with his calls for reforms to corporate America and remedies for income inequality.
“When I look at an unbelievable crowd like this I believe we’re going to win here in New York,” Mr Sanders declared in front of the iconic Washington Square Arch in the city’s Greenwich Village neighbourhood.
Ms Clinton attracted a smaller but still enthusiastic crowd of 1,300 people at a Bronx community centre, where she made no mention of Mr Sanders but focused instead on Republican rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
“Mr Trump wants to set Americans against each other,” she said. “He wants us to build walls. I want us to build bridges.”
Referencing Mr Cruz’s earlier criticism of “New York values”, Ms Clinton said: “I think New York values are at the core of American values.”
Mr Sanders did not return the favour, mentioning Ms Clinton by name throughout his speech. He noted that she had the support of super PACs and had voted in favour of the Iraq War, drawing boos from the crowd.
Foreshadowing a likely issue in last night’s debate, Mr Sanders urged Ms Clinton to back an expansion of social security benefits, a major cause among liberals.
“I am still waiting for her response,” Mr Sanders said.
The rallies set the stage for a high-stakes Brooklyn debate last night and capped a day in which both candidates courted organised labour. Mr Sanders picked up support from the local transit workers union and walked a picket line with striking Verizon workers — a small army of backers who could pass out leaflets in subways in the days ahead.
Ms Clinton also walked a picket line in solidarity with the Verizon workers and addressed the National Action Network, led by the Rev Al Sharpton, giving her a visible platform for the city’s black community. There, she stressed her differences with Mr Sanders on gun laws, calling gun violence a “national emergency.”
New York City offers by far the largest bloc of votes in next Tuesday’s primary, and campaign officials estimate it could account for about 70% of the state vote. In 2008, when Ms Clinton duelled with then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama in the state’s primary, more than half of the vote came from the city’s five boroughs.
Polls have shown Ms Clinton with a lead against Mr Sanders, putting pressure on him to overcome the former secretary of state’s edge. Ms Clinton holds a lead of about 250 pledged delegates in the chase for the nomination, an advantage Mr Sanders is trying to chip away in upcoming primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and beyond.
Mr Sanders sought to lower expectations, saying “this is a tough race for us” given Ms Clinton’s tenure representing New York in the Senate. He also noted that the primary does not allow independents to participate or feature same-day registration. However, he added defiantly: “I think we’ve got a surprise for the establishment.”
As Ms Clinton dug into campaigning in her adopted home state, Mr Sanders prepared to fly to Rome for a 10-minute speaking slot today at a Vatican conference on social and economic trends. He was expected to head overseas after the pair finished their debate last night.
His comments in Rome would dovetail with his campaign push for economic equality.
“What I’m planning to say is that it is not acceptable from a moral perspective, from an economic perspective or from an environmental perspective, that so few have so much and that greed is running as rampant as it is throughout the entire planet,” said Mr Sanders.
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