April 6, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | The Election Comes to New York

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The process of nominating a presidential candidate is long and exhausting. Successful contenders are those who can maintain a consistent pace; the history of failed campaigns is filled with those who simply peaked too soon. A staggered, localized primary calendar is another way of filtering out the weakest. True to the federal structure of the United States, every state gets a chance to test the candidates. The failure to appeal to a geographically diverse set of constituencies is synonymous with the failure to win the nomination.

At this point, the majority of the states have already voted. But the nation’s attention will now turn to New York. No other state votes between now and the April 19th primary. Further, New York has one of the largest delegate totals of the entire primary. For us New Yorkers — and us Cornellians — this is our time to get involved. In an election as important as this one, we have no excuse for apathy. All of us should vote.

First, on the Democratic side, I must emphasize that your vote still matters. Hillary Clinton has built up a large lead in the delegates and popular vote, but her nomination is not assured. Indeed, it would be deeply unwise for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) to concede the state to Secretary Clinton. Nor should supporters of Hillary Clinton take her advantage for granted. Clinton may have represented New York in the Senate, but Democratic primary voters are not merely basing their decision on familiarity. Clinton is keenly aware of this, and has launched a comprehensive effort to campaign across the state.

I do not write this column to endorse a particular candidate. I think Hillary Clinton is extraordinarily well-qualified, and understands the specific concerns of New Yorkers. But I also believe that Sen. Sanders has a captivating vision for change. My concern is not to convince you to support one or the other; it is simply to encourage you to participate.

To be candid, it would surprise me if Clinton did not win New York. However, it is not as simple as winning or losing. Delegates will be assigned proportionally, meaning that every vote matters. A strong showing could make her candidacy increasingly insurmountable: a narrow victory would keep Sanders competitive. If Clinton voters are complacent, or if Sanders voters are particularly energized, he could even pull off an upset. Regardless of the outcome, I believe New York will play a crucial role in resolving this primary. And once we have a nominee, we must unite behind him or her as our candidate for president. I am confident that both sides will respect the will of the people; make sure that your voice is included.

My views on the Democratic primary are perhaps more relevant. Nonetheless, the Republican primary should not be ignored. Donald Trump’s campaign has possibly suffered its worst stretch of the election in recent days, including a series of puzzling statements on abortion, assault charges on his campaign manager and a crushing defeat in Wisconsin. It now appears quite possible that Trump will fail to receive the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination on the first ballot. To prevent this, he will need to win by large margins in the places most favorable to him —such as New York.

Clearly, Trump enjoys a sizeable lead in his home state. In contrast to Trump’s often contentious relationship with the establishment, the New York Republican Party is firmly on his side. He enjoys the support of more than 30 GOP county chairs. He also boasts endorsements from the state’s congressional delegation, including the congressman who represents Ithaca, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY-23). If New York Republicans — including those in the Cornell community — are uncomfortable with this unification around Trump, now is the time to say so.

The alternatives may not be ideal. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a conservative firebrand from Texas and an unnatural fit for the New York electorate. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) has attempted to appeal to more moderate voters, but recent primaries have cast serious doubt on whether or not he remains a viable candidate. His strategy for obtaining the nomination — seizing it from Trump and Cruz at a contested convention — is dubious at best. In this sense, anti-Trump Republicans may be forced to engage in strategic voting.

Overall, however, this is an unusual situation for New Yorkers of both parties. We are not accustomed to playing a role in the picking of presidents. Often, a presumptive nominee has already been chosen before New York has a chance to vote. In the general election, New York receives little attention due to its comfortably blue status. This environment can make it easy to tune out of the process, perhaps explaining why New York voter turnout in 2014 was a pathetically low 28.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the country. This is our chance to help reverse that.

April 19th is rapidly approaching. I urge every student who is registered to vote in the New York primary to inform themselves about their choices and how to vote. Locate your polling place in Ithaca — and if you are registered in another part of the state, there is still time to obtain an absentee ballot. Moreover, if you have questions or need help, reach out to your fellow students in organizations such as the Cornell Democrats or the Cornell Republicans.

This column may seem unoriginal, and I admit that it is not an innovative idea to call for increased voter participation among college students. Yet this point is made so frequently because it is so important. The government will only respond to our concerns if we actually express them — not on Facebook, but in the ballot box. It is never too early to start the good habits of being an involved citizen. What better way to begin than by helping to choose the next President of the United States?

Kevin Kowalewski is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at krk78@cornell.edu. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.