New York Is in Play

New Yorkers are about to get a spittle-flecked front-row seat on the 2008 presidential campaign, and be subjected to the deluge of oratory, accusation, punch and counterpunch—and occasional discussion of policy—we’ve been watching on TV and online these past few weeks. What happened in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, in the deserts of Nevada and the coastal plains of South Carolina, are mere prelude to the 22 “Super Tuesday” presidential primaries on Feb. 5, when New York will be among the most acutely-watched contests.

And no region of the state will have more impact than New York City, at least on the Democratic side: In 2004, half of the votes in the state’s Democratic primary were cast by New York City residents.

With the intense concentration of media in New York, and the diversity of the state’s electorate, all the campaigns will undoubtedly seek and receive lots of public attention. The form of this attention should not be determined by pollsters, but by the priorities of New Yorkers. This is a state that has a strong stake in health care reform, which includes extending health care to the uninsured while strengthening the medical research and educational enterprises based here. In addition, with the majority of mass transit users in the nation located in the New York region, the candidates should be pressed in how they would direct the federal government to encourage mass transit. Most important, the primary is an ideal opportunity to raise public concern about the need to invest in cities. Upstate cities are in dire straits, and while the city is flourishing, it still bears enormous costs for helping the poor, whom the federal government should be assisting, whether in job training, affordable housing or social services. After years of reckless neglect by the Bush administration, the city is deeply interested to see if the candidates understand New York’s unique role as America’s economic and cultural engine.

On the Democratic side, the Clinton campaign has long been confident they will win New York without breaking a sweat. Hillary Rodham Clinton is well liked here, and has established an admirable record as the state’s junior senator. In the months before the Iowa caucuses, she had locked up the support of several local unions. And it appeared she had succeeded in maintaining the loyalty of the city’s African-American population; in December, she led Senator Barack Obama among African-American New Yorkers by 40 percentage points.

But Senator Obama’s decisive win in Iowa and his close second-place finish in New Hampshire have had a sizable ripple effect in New York. A new Daily News poll shows that Mr. Obama has erased Mrs. Clinton’s lead among the state’s African-American community, where he now leads 42 percent to 40 percent. Several of the city’s prominent African-American elected officials, such as Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV and State Senator Bill Perkins, both of Harlem, are strongly supporting Mr. Obama.

Among New York Democrat voters as a whole, Senator Clinton’s 31-point lead over Senator Obama has dropped to 20 points. Many New Yorkers have been drawn to Senator Obama’s idealism and grace under pressure. And given his political roots as a community organizer in Chicago, New Yorkers may also feel he would be particularly attuned to the economic and social concerns of a major American city.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, New York is key to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign. While the state Republican powers are divided in whom they are supporting, New York remains largely Rudyland—he has wide name recognition, as well as appeal to urban and suburban voters who credit him with making New York City safe. If he wins here and in California, his candidacy is very much alive.

Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

New York Is in Play