Battle heats up for crunch New York presidential primary, as 3 candidates claim to have roots there

NEW YORK (AFP) - The United States presidential circus is barnstorming New York, where adoptive daughter Hillary Clinton and native-born sons Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are battling to win the state's most important primary in decades.

Despite being the media and financial capital of America, New York is typically a sideshow in presidential elections, an overwhelmingly blue state whose primary typically comes too late to make a difference.

But with Republicans potentially facing a contested election and Mrs Clinton locked into a tighter race than she imagined, the 247 Democrat and 95 Republican delegates up for grabs could prove decisive.

This year, New Yorkers also have the unique choice of three candidates who consider the state their home: celebrity Manhattan tycoon Trump, Brooklyn-born Sanders and two-time senator Clinton.

With three weeks to go, polls give Clinton and Trump a thumping advantage. Clinton leads Sanders 54 to 42 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac University survey.

Mr Trump dominates the Republican field with 56 per cent - a double-digit lead over Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was roundly condemned for denigrating "New York values", and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

The tycoon brags of being "the most popular person that's ever lived" upstate. If he becomes the nominee, then whoever wins the Democratic ticket would pit New Yorker against New Yorker in November.

Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt has a US president claimed to come from New York. Expect wall-to-wall coverage, celebrity endorsements and Wall Street watching closely in a state home to some of the richest people in the world and the most disadvantaged in the country.

Not since the modern system of primary and caucus elections was introduced in the 1970s has the New York primary been so important for both parties, said professor Jeanne Zaino from Iona College.

"New York has never been so consequential in so many ways. It could potentially end a campaign or get us to a contested election," the political scientist told AFP.

The only path for Sen Sanders to win the nomination is to win Wisconsin on April 5 and sock it to Mrs Clinton in the New York primary on April 19. Anything less than a home-state victory will spell trouble for Trump.

On Wednesday, Mrs Clinton hit New York hard, stopping off at a popular cafe and addressing her fan base in Harlem, the historically African American neighborhood that has welcomed the Clintons for decades.

"We know her. We love her and we cannot wait for her to be president," Senator Chuck Schumer told die-hard Clinton fans at the Apollo Theater.

Although born and raised in Illinois, Mrs Clinton moved with husband, former president Bill Clinton, to New York when they left the White House in 2001. They keep a home in Westchester, a rich suburb.

She was New York senator from 2001 to 2009. The couple's daughter Chelsea and granddaughter live in Manhattan. The Clinton Foundation is headquartered here. Her national campaign headquarters is in Brooklyn.

Wearing leather, Mrs Clinton, who lost six of the seven most recent state elections to Sen Sanders, told Harlem she was taking nothing for granted.

"It is wonderful to be back home," she told the crowd. "This is a wild election year," she said. "We will work for every vote and every part of this state."

The crowd lapped it up.

"She will be an awesome president, unlike Donald Trump who thinks that everybody should go back to their country, which is not right," said 26-year-old nursing student Kumci Duberry.

Sen Sanders is playing catch-up. Last weekend his campaign opened an office in Brooklyn near the Gowanus canal.

On Thursday, he addressed a rally in the south Bronx, one of the most disadvantaged areas in the state. He has a round table discussion on women and criminal justice scheduled in Harlem on Friday.

"If there is a very large turn out we will win," Sen Sanders told south Bronx. "If we win in New York we are going to make it to the White House. So I urge all of you to come out and vote. Let's win."

Ms Valeria Calderon, a 31-year-old holistic practitioner and the daughter of immigrants, denied that the 74-year-old senator from Vermont was struggling to appeal to minorities, or that he was an outsider.

He, too, was the son of an immigrant, he, too, is a northeasterner, she said.

"There's a lot of connections I feel with him," she said. "I can't really determine if New York will vote for Hillary or for Bernie... I'm hoping that it's for Bernie but there's a little bit of doubt."