By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

Hillary Clinton. (C-SPAN)

This piece originally ran on AlterNet.

Despite all the heated campaigning in recent days, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump won New York’s delegate-rich primary Tuesday, breaking a weeks-long pattern where each party’s frontrunner was losing a string of states and delegates.

New York was called for Clinton who with 59 percent of precincts reporting had a 59 percent to 41 percent lead over Sanders. Trump, who was called the winner by the Associated Press, had 61 percent, compared to 24 percent for John Kasich and 14 percent for Ted Cruz with 49 percent of precincts reporting.

Their victories, which were called by the media soon after polls closed at nine, put them closer to snaring their parties’ nominations. On the Democratic side, New York was the feistiest contest of 2016, largely because gritty New York City is where most of the party’s likely primary voters reside.

Not only did it pit Clinton, its former U.S. senator, against Brooklyn-born Sanders, but both candidates aggressively parried. Sanders went after Wall Street and Clinton’s ties to financiers, held events where he reached out to other key constituencies (such as Puerto Ricans concerned about the island’s debt and striking Verizon telecom workers) and held rallies attended by tens of thousands of backers.

For her part, Clinton ceded no ground and revived the formula that has worked for her in so many earlier contests—reaching out to women and especially older blacks. She touted her Congressional Black Caucus endorsement and made campaign stops at Asian food markets, Latino carwashes and others locales, while her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also made the rounds.

But in the end it was probably the state Democratic Party’s unfriendly and unbending rules requiring pre-existing voters to reregister as party members a half-year before its presidential primary to vote in it—the nation’s longest pre-election deadline to do so—that blocked independents and last-minute voters from flocking to Sanders, who has won in eight of the last nine states. An estimated 20 percent of New York’s electorate was registered as independents.

New York City also has a reputation for voter roll snafus and polling place bottlenecks, which also occurred Tuesday. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has run election protection hotlines staffed with attorneys and deployed poll monitors, called the city’s performance unusually bad.

“This is not an election that is problem-free,” Kristen Clarke, its executive director, said.

But frustrating as those obstructions were to random victims, they are of an entirely different and smaller magnitude than state party rules that stop insurgent candidates from winning more delegates by stopping last-minute voters from flocking to a candidate—such as some of the thousands at Sanders’ rallies.

Media exit polls found that 80 percent of Democratic voters self-identified themselves as very loyal party members, even as they said economic issues were their top concern. That reinforced the party insider’s iron grip on its presidential nominating process.

New York Finally Mattered

New York has not played such a prominent political role in years. For two weeks after Sanders and Ted Cruz won Wisconsin’s primaries, it became the epicenter of the presidential campaign.

Going into the state, both party’s frontrunners, Clinton and Trump, were lagging. On the Republican side, Cruz was out-organizing Trump and winning delegates in states that moved onto to the next stage of their delegate process, which was holding state or congressional district conventions. The losses by Trump, who loudly complained that the process was rigged, prompted him to replace most of his top staffers.

On the Democratic side, Sanders had a weeks-long winning streak that kept chipping away at Clinton’s lead among the delegates who were proportionally allocated as a result of caucuses and primary votes.

These are not the party’s super-delegates, which are elected officials and party leaders who make up one-sixth of its national convention delegates. Most have pledged to back Clinton, but those pledges could change if Sanders were to win big upsets in the remaining contests.

Nonetheless, for the first time in decades, New Yorkers were able to vote in presidential primaries that mattered. That prompted the candidates—especially on the Democratic side—to race across the state shaking hands, posing for social media posts, making speeches and holding rallies, as their campaigns filled the airwaves with political ads. The press coverage was intense, led by New York City tabloids having had a field day going after everyone, especially Cruz after he derided Trump’s “New York values.” Pre-election day polls, meanwhile, began showing Sanders creeping upward, making Clinton’s team as nervous and wary as Sanders’ team was driven and exuberant.

That backdrop prompted accusations and finger pointing between the contenders that reached new heights or depths, depending on one’s perspective. Sanders’ team pummeled Clinton for flying across the nation to raise megabucks with top Hollywood stars, while he went to the Vatican for a speech and Papal encounter. That contrast became the basis of more accusations from Sanders’ side that her efforts raising money for other Democrats was a ruse and possibly an illegal diversion of big money back to her own campaign. Clinton’s team reacted by sneering at Sanders’ claims and dismissing him with disgust and dismay.

“They fell behind so they are bending the rules,” began a typical Bernie e-mail barrage from that fray, prompting a Clinton response entitled, “Bernie’s latest attack is irresponsible and poisonous.”

And so it went as more than 15,000 Bernie backers nationwide made more than 3 million calls to New Yorkers over the weekend, his campaign said. But as the polls closed and the New York and national media called the race based on their Tuesday exit polls, Sanders, Cruz and John Kasich had already left for Pennsylvania, the largest state to hold a primary next week.

You can be sure you will hear more complaints about a rigged process benefitting political insiders in the days to come. Indeed, the Democratic Party’s registration rules in New York are among the worst in the country, barring anyone who is not a longtime party member from selecting their candidates.

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