KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And joining us now to talk about what's at stake in the New York primary is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
MCEVERS: All right, let's start with the Republicans and Donald Trump. This is a guy whose name is on buildings everywhere in New York City. How much of an advantage does his name recognition give him in this race?
LIASSON: Gives him a lot of advantages. This is his home state. This is the state where he has polled better than any other state. New York is also filled with Trump voters. Upstate New York, where you just heard Brian talking from, is filled with white downscale voters who've been hit hard by a bad economy. And Donald Trump hasn't campaigned very much in New York City except for Staten Island, which you could call the bluest-collar borough.
But he is doing well there. He's outpolling Cruz and Kasich combined. He's never dropped under 50 percent in the polls. His goal tonight is to win big. By curvature of the Earth, New York has 95 delegates, and if Trump gets over 50 percent he gets all the statewide delegates. If he gets over 50 percent in a congressional district, he gets all three of that CD's delegates.
MCEVERS: Well, give us a sense of how that could get him the 1,237 delegates that he needs to claim the Republican nomination outright at that first vote at the convention this summer.
LIASSON: Well, he needs big wins to get there because it's doable, but pretty difficult because he needs to win on the first ballot because he's unlikely to gain votes on a second or third ballot because Ted Cruz has been out-organizing him in the delegate selection process, getting commitments from individual delegates who will unbound after the first ballot if Trump fails to get 1,237.
But Trump has made changes in his campaign. He's brought on Paul Manafort. He's actually going to start spending millions of dollars on television advertising, so he's not just going to be tweeting and holding rallies and getting free media anymore. He's going be investing in the traditional campaign arts.
MCEVERS: Turning to the Democrats now, Hillary Clinton has won statewide office, of course, twice in New York. She calls it home. But Bernie Sanders has New York roots and has campaigned aggressively as we heard from Brian Mann, also in upstate New York. I mean, bring us up to date on the Democratic race.
LIASSON: Well, this is Bernie Sanders' last best chance to catch up to her. He has closed the gap in national polls with Clinton. In New York, she's been polling well ahead of him. But when you look at the way they've been campaigning in New York, it looks like Clinton is running to be president of New York and Sanders is running to be president of the left.
You know, he's held these big rallies with his big message. She's got granular programs for everything that ails the New York economy. She has an upstate manufacturing plan. And just in the last couple of days, she's been touching base with all sorts of individual constituencies, and he spoke to 28,000 people in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Sanders even took a break from campaigning to go to the Vatican to see the Pope. So he's the global campaigner and she's the local campaigner.
MCEVERS: I mean, what do you make of these big rallies? Do you think he's picking up momentum in New York? What do you think's going to happen?
LIASSON: Well, we're going to find out tonight. I think he probably can't catch up to her no matter what happens tonight. She's got 2 million plus votes than him and a lot more pledged delegates. But if Sanders can keep her inside a 10-point margin, he gets some bragging rights. For Sanders, the math is probably out of reach, but he still wants the ability to claim some momentum.
MCEVERS: The Democrats race has turned steadily, you know, tougher and more negative. Does that matter to voters or in the bigger scheme of this election?
LIASSON: It matters to Democrats. It might matter not so much to primary voters, but Democrats are getting worried. And the Democrats I talked to are getting more and more concerned that Sanders is not toughening up Clinton. He's wounding her for a general election.
He was sarcastic and dismissive of her in the last debate. A lot of Democrats say he's going to be a left-wing Pat Buchanan, who undermined George H.W. Bush. And he is making the kinds of attacks, the kinds of character-based attacks that have - these Democrats think have sent her numbers on honesty and trustworthiness down. And those are the kind of attacks that are going to be repeated by Republicans in the general if she's the nominee.
MCEVERS: That NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks a lot.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.