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New York Voters Go To The Polls On Primary Day

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It is primary day in New York. On both sides of the presidential race, the front-runners are hoping for big wins, but there is still some suspense. If Bernie Sanders upsets Hillary Clinton tonight, it could upend the Democratic race. And on the Republican side, there's a close watch on how many delegates Donald Trump can pick up on his narrow path to the nomination.

We're going to turn now to our reporters out on the campaign trail. NPR's Tamara Keith is covering the Democratic race, and NPR's Sarah McCammon is with the Republicans. Both are with us from New York City. Hi there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hello.

MCEVERS: Hi. So Tam, let's start with you. Both of the Democratic candidates have close ties to the state of New York. Clinton lives there, of course, and was elected twice to the Senate from New York. Bernie Sanders grew up in Brooklyn. How did each of them spend the day?

KEITH: Hillary Clinton voted in Chappaqua, which is her home polling place along with her husband, the former President Bill Clinton. And Bernie Sanders was actually campaigning most of the afternoon and tonight in Pennsylvania, not New York. But earlier today, he was walking the streets and ran into a guy who said he was an independent voter. He tried to change his registration to Democrat, and he was unable to do it. And that means he's not going to be able to vote for Sanders.

And this is a real concern for Bernie Sanders - that the primary here is a closed primary, meaning only Democrats can vote, and they had to change their registration months ago if they wanted to become a Democrat. But you know, primaries are party processes, and the political parties decide who gets to participate. And in this case, independents are not able to vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary in New York.

That is an advantage for Hillary Clinton because independent voters tend to favor Bernie Sanders. And this isn't just an advantage for Clinton today in New York because the majority of the states ahead also have closed primaries.

MCEVERS: And Sarah, the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, happens to be a lifelong New Yorker. What was he up to today?

MCCAMMON: Well, Kelly, he was voting for himself, we presume. And he's been way ahead in the polls here for quite a while. After he voted, he said it was an honor and he said an honor for New York, his home state. He is expected to win here by a lot if the polls are any indication, but Ted Cruz and John Kasich, his rivals for the nomination, have spent time here in the last week trying to thwart Trump from getting a sweep.

And to get all the 95 delegates today in New York, Trump would have to get more than 50 percent statewide and more than 50 percent in each congressional district. So Cruz and Kasich want to stop him from that. But they have moved on. Cruz is in Pennsylvania today, Kasich in Maryland. They're looking ahead because they're not expecting big night.

MCEVERS: Donald Trump has had a rough couple of weeks. I mean, Ted Cruz handed him a big defeat in Wisconsin. There have been reports of turmoil in his campaign. How badly does he need this win to set things back on course?

MCCAMMON: That's right. He's been bringing in new staffers focused on the delegate selection process. Even though Trump's ahead in the vote count and the delegate count, Ted Cruz has been picking up delegates around the country. He has a very smart and organized campaign the knows the delegate rules very well, and they been making headway on that.

So Trump is trying to transform his campaign into a different kind of operation. So today he needs to big - he needs to win big not just to pick up delegates but also to show that his campaign is going strong. But they are feeling strong, feeling confident moving ahead. Here's Trump's New York co-chair Carl Paladino.

CARL PALADINO: As Wisconsin was to Cruz, New York will be to Trump. And hopefully the press will recognize the importance of that because the symbol leaving New York is going to be that the Northeast - the people in the Northeast, OK - there's a significant population that trusts the man.

MCCAMMON: And of course Ted Cruz had a big night a couple weeks ago in Wisconsin. The Trump campaign is hoping for a big boost tonight in New York and heading into the next few contests in places like Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland.

MCEVERS: Tam, Hillary Clinton is hoping for a similar turnaround. Bernie Sanders has been on a big winning streak lately. Does the Clinton campaign feel like they can try to make victory seem inevitable soon quickly?

KEITH: They're definitely moving in that direction. And although Hillary Clinton lost 8 of the last 9 contests, they feel like New York is good territory for her. And going forward, Bernie Sanders is going to have a very, very hard time, they say, catching up in the delegate race, in the pledged delegate race. And if he doesn't win New York, then they say that's even harder for him to do.

MCEVERS: Thanks so much. That's NPR's Tamara Keith and Sarah McCammon following the primary races in New York. Thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MCCAMMON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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