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Sanders and Clinton return to battle in New York

As Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton prepare to go head-to-head in New York next Tuesday, what is at stake?

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont greets Communications Workers of America workers striking against Verizon in Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS

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The next Democratic primary is scheduled on April 19, less than a week from today, and it is a big one: there are 291 delegates up for grabs in New York, and both presidential candidates want as many as they can get.

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont both have New York roots. Most recently, Mrs. Clinton served as a senator for the state from 2001 to 2009, and Mr. Sanders was born and raised in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.

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Despite their mutual ties to the state, Clinton is heavily favored to win, with Real Clear Politics reporting that she leads the polls by just over 13 points, on average. Emerson polls reports her as leading by as many as 18. But a swelling grass-roots support for Sanders could position him for a major upset next week.

New York is not only racially diverse (a point of victory for Clinton, who snagged wins in several such states this March), but also home to a number of wealthy business interests, to whom Clinton has well known ties, says Middlebury College political science professor Matt Dickinson. The state has the tendency to be more conservative outside New York City and that, too, could play in Clinton's favor.

The sheer size of New York City and the resulting need for workers to labor, service, and run the city in a variety of ways lends itself to a stronger union presence, according to Dr. Dickinson. But working class enclaves in northern New York state could also contribute to a Clinton victory. 

Both candidates have received union attention in recent days.  

Sanders has also worked hard to appeal to organized labor, and made a Wednesday appearance at a protest by Northeast Verizon employees who are on strike over stalled contract negotiations. Approximately 39,000 Verizon workers are striking across a wide swath of the Northeast, covering territory from Massachusetts to Virginia.

"Today you are standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers," Sanders told the picket line. "You're standing up for millions of Americans."

Sanders also won approval from at least one local New York union this week.

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"Bernie Sanders has demonstrated a steadfast defense of workers throughout his life," John Samuelsen, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, told the Monitor in an interview. "Bernie Sanders also recognizes that the trade union movement is the best way for workers to arrive in the middle class."

However, Clinton also won approval from another local union recently, the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. And although Sanders' politics ostensibly seem as though they would appeal more to unions, Clinton enjoys widespread support among some of the country's largest.

"There is no doubt that working people will come together to work as one for victory in this election. The stakes are too high," 23 unions, including giants like the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement endorsing Clinton. The groups applauded her plans to create jobs, combat racial and educational inequality, and "rein in Wall Street."

Despite Clinton's lead, there could still be hope for Sanders supporters. On Tuesday, the Senator received his first endorsement from a fellow Senate colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon. Senator Merkley supports Sanders for his "wholesale rethinking of how our economy and our politics work, and for whom they work," he wrote in a New York Times op-ed. 

"If Sanders can pull off an upset" in New York, American University professor Leonard Steinhorn told the Monitor, "then that will cast some doubt on the viability of Clinton’s candidacy."