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Nation & World

Democratic Candidates Battle Over Key Districts In Upstate New York

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's primary day in New York, and the race is not just about New York City where the presidential candidates have been trying to prove which one of them can eat a pizza the native way. We're going to hear some voters who are about five hours away from the city in Plattsburgh, N.Y. That's a town near the Vermont border. It's one of the most contested areas of upstate New York. Many Democrats like Tim Seneca are with Hillary Clinton.

TIM SENECA: If you look at her in a one-on-one debate with anybody, she out-classes them all. She knows what she's talking about. She's got a lot of background behind her.

MCEVERS: And on the Republican side, Donald Trump has the advantage. Marie Cleveland says she's voting for him.

MARIE CLEVELAND: Donald comes from the outside, from the business world, and he doesn't owe anybody anything. I feel he's got a true heart.

MCEVERS: Both of these voters talked to reporter Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio who is with us now. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So where you are, have you seen much campaigning by the candidates themselves?

MANN: We have seen a few candidates. As you say, we're really far from where most of the voters in New York state live. But we've seen Donald Trump. We've seen John Kasich. And you know, that's amazing for a primary in New York state. Usually there's no action here, so for us, that's a big deal.

MCEVERS: How would you describe the Republican race there in upstate New York?

MANN: Well, so far it's been all Donald Trump. He's polled well. When he's appeared up here, he's had huge turnouts - so really the kinds of numbers we've seen in other parts of New York state. It looks like this is going to be a really big day for him up here.

MCEVERS: What about the Democrats? I mean, you're not that far from Vermont. Has that given Bernie Sanders an edge?

MANN: I think it really has made him competitive here. You know, when Hillary Clinton represented New York State for those eight years, she spent a lot of time up here. And she was up here with her husband, Bill Clinton. They did sink some roots here, and they sort of made some connections.

And if you'd asked me six months ago whether Bernie Sanders could have made this place competitive, I would have said, no way. And instead, you know, they have come across from Vermont. His supporters have really built networks here. And just being here at the voting place today in Clinton County - a lot of Bernie supporters, more young faces than I ever see at elections. And so you know, he's turned this into a real race.

MCEVERS: New York has a closed primary. People who wanted to change parties to vote for candidates had to do so by October of last year. What have the voters that you've talked to said about this?

MANN: Well, it's a mixed bag. I have spoken to some people, including one young Bernie Sanders supporter who said, no problem; I registered online - took me a short time - five minutes, and everything worked smoothly. I've also spoken to a bunch of people saying they were confused by the system. They felt excluded by the system.

I've talked to three or four people here who showed up and said that it's not that they think there was some kind of conspiracy or cheating. It's just that New York's laws are confusing. It's a very closed primary system. It takes a lot of effort to change parties and to be involved. And so yeah, I think there is a lot of anger and a lot of frustration here over that.

MCEVERS: That's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Thanks a lot.

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

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