Clinton’s dilemma: To debate or not to debate in New York

Clinton's reticence to debate Bernie Sanders in New York suggests more trouble for Madame Secretary.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton - Caricatures by Donkey Hotey for CC -

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2016 – Democratic candidates for president Sen. Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton continue to disagree over when to hold the ABC-hosted debate in New York. Several dates that the candidates offered include April 4, April 14 and April 15. Both sides are accusing the other of stonewalling a debate.

Clinton’s campaign press secretary Brian Fallon attacked Sanders on Twitter, saying Sanders is making “fake excuses” for turning down the dates put forward by Clinton, allowing him to attack her but not actually debate her. Sanders responded by saying the proposed dates — including one that coincides with the NCAA men’s basketball final — “don’t make a whole of sense.”

However, Clinton herself appears to be avoiding committing to a New York debate.

New York is a key state for both candidates. Clinton considers New York as her second home and represented the state in the Senate. Sanders was born in Brooklyn, where he has hosted several rallies and drawn crowds numbering in the thousands.

A loss in New York would be a major setback for Clinton. Not only would it suggest that momentum is shifting to Sanders, it also would cost her the coveted 291 delegates.

Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benson claims that Clinton has refused to debate in New York because of moves by Sanders. Benson told CNN’s Kate Bolduan,“Sanders doesn’t get to decide when we debate, particularly when he’s running a very negative campaign against us.”

Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon, meanwhile, dismissed Sanders’s call for more debates as a “stunt” to play up his underdog status. “I think that the Sanders campaign is struggling a bit for attention,” he said Monday afternoon in an interview on CNN. “I think this is an attempt by them to get back onto people’s radar.”

Clinton’s waffling over a New York debate may indicate she does not want to risk another high-profile showdown with Sanders ahead of the April 19 primary. Sanders is basking in a burst of momentum following the Alaska, Washington and Hawaii primaries, where he swept Clinton. He is also drawing large crowds in New York, attracting 18,500 to rally in the South Bronx on Thursday. The Sanders campaign has repeatedly pushed for a debate in Brooklyn, where the Vermont senator was born and raised, an area they see as favorable ground for him, even though Clinton’s campaign is based there.

However, failure to hold a pre-New York debate could also hurt Clinton. If she refuses to debate in New York, she will be breaking a promise she made with Sanders in January when she challenged her opponent to a debate ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Sanders agreed, on the condition that Clinton would participate in subsequent debates, which was acceptable to Clinton.

If she doesn’t debate ahead of New York’s primary, it will also likely set off a new round of speculation over her campaign, reigniting negative headlines and questions over he ability to win the nomination.

If Clinton loses New York, she would be dealt a serious psychological blow to her campaign.

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