The 12th Congressional District of New York, centered on Manhattan's Upper East Side, is home to many symbols of the city's gilded glory: Park Avenue, the Guggenheim and Metropolitan museums, the penthouse abode of one Donald J. Trump.
Still, that relatively meager mass of GOP faithful — more moderate, affluent and educated than the national norm — explains why presidential hopeful John Kasich plopped this weekend onto a counter seat at PJ Bernstein's delicatessen, where a swarm of reporters documented his intake of kreplach, sour pickles and strudel.
He was cherry-picking.
New York, where Trump was born and bred in the borough of Queens, is expected to deliver its native son a handsome victory Tuesday, maintaining his narrow path toward the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the party nomination before its summer convention.
But the size of Trump's win will matter greatly.
New York awards 95 delegates, the fourth most of any state, under a system that gives Ohio Gov. Kasich and Trump's other opponent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a chance to walk away with a small share, provided they aren't beaten too badly.
A candidate topping 50% of the statewide vote will get all of New York's 14 at-large delegates. If no one gets a majority, the sum will be divvied up. Three delegates will also be awarded in each of New York's 27 congressional districts, following the same formula.
It is a system akin to California's June 7 primary, thus offering a sort of dry run for the contest that will either settle the GOP nominating fight or provoke hand-to-hand warfare all the way to the July convention.
In primaries on the scale of New York and California, "no one has the kind of campaign budget that people who are running for governor would have," John Weaver, Kasich's chief strategist, said Saturday as his candidate's black SUV pulled away from the deli. "So what do you do? You have to look where you can pick up delegates."
Polls show Trump flirting with the 50% benchmark statewide and neither of his two opponents offers any pretense of beating him Tuesday. "That's a tall order," Kasich told reporters after picking at his apple strudel.
Trump, though, has taken nothing for granted. He even canceled a California visit to spend more time in New York, which, after a crushing April 5 loss in Wisconsin, has grown vital to his hopes of clinching the nomination without a convention fight.
"It's great to be home," Trump said upon arriving at a boisterous Long Island rally, his first appearance after the Wisconsin debacle. It was a sentiment so heartfelt, he repeated himself. "This is home," he said. "It's great to be home."
Cruz, who won Wisconsin and has been steadily piling up delegates at party conventions around the country, has fared worse in New York.
The state, with its heavy concentration of urban, secular voters, always figured to be a tough sell for his brand of assertively religious conservatism. Cruz was heckled at an early stop at a Chinese-Dominican restaurant in the Bronx — "You should not be here!" — and in screaming type on the front page of the New York Daily News: "Take the FU Train, Ted!"
Ideology aside, Cruz assured himself a pungent welcome by disparaging "New York values" back in the Iowa caucus days, an attack on Trump he has since tried to explain away as referring to New York's liberal political establishment and not its people. The "best and brightest," Cruz called them Wednesday night on CNN.
His wife, Heidi, offered her own unique tribute. "I love the smell of New York," the former Goldman Sachs investment manager told a Republican audience in Queens. Such words are rarely heard, especially in the summertime. "I love the hustle and bustle," she added.
Trump, though, has had none of it, drawing himself up in full umbrage and repeatedly reminding audiences of Cruz's disdain.
"What are New York values? Number one, honesty and straight-talking," Trump told Republicans at a fundraising gala at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel, which he restored in the late 1970s in one of his first major development projects.
Trump turned Cruz's remark, as he has repeatedly, into an attack on the victims of Sept. 11. "In our darkest moment as a city, we showed the world the very, very best in terms of braveness and heart and soul," he said.
New York is the rare state where Kasich, a distant third in the delegate count, offers Trump his stiffest competition.
He has sloughed off the saintly, above-the-fray demeanor shown in other states — perhaps it's New York City's vibe — barking at reporters and issuing some of his harshest rhetoric of the campaign.
Speaking to a women's group in Manhattan, he mentioned neither Trump nor Cruz by name, but his targets were unmistakable as he described "two paths" facing the GOP.
"One choice is the path that exploits anger, encourages resentment, turns fear into hatred and divides people," he said. "Another path is the one America has been down before. It's well-trod … but it's also solid."
Apart from a few pockets on Long Island, in suburban Westchester County and some upstate college towns, New York City offers Kasich his best hope of picking off delegates Tuesday, on both sides of Central Park.
The Upper East Side is the original habitat of the Rockefeller Republican, the centrist, establishment-minded breed driven to near extinction as the national party grew more conservative and Southern in its orientation.
To this day, Manhattan Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal, said Jerry Skurnik, who runs the political data firm Prime New York, and many view Trump — who occupies three marble and gold-encrusted floors of his eponymous high-rise — as not an affable neighbor but an embarrassment.
"Bad-mannered and too brash," Skurnik said.
One who shares that view is Nicholas Rostow, who detoured from a bike ride through Central Park when he heard Kasich would be stopping by PJ Bernstein's.
The governor is "a grown-up," said Rostow, who worked in the Reagan and both Bush administrations and now teaches international law at Colgate University. "Trump reminds me, unfortunately, of Mussolini, and Cruz is a wrecker.
"He owes me a couple of weeks pay since he shut down the government for no reason," Rostow added, referring to the Cruz-led fight against Obama's healthcare law that led to a partial shuttering of the federal government in 2013.
Kasich cannot possibly win the nomination before July and the math makes it almost impossible for Cruz as well, so both their hopes rest on stopping Trump short of 1,237 delegates and forcing a fight on the convention floor. The difference may come down to a few scattered places, like New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Republicans are normally an afterthought.
"That's what we're on," Kasich said as he sat before an array of kosher pickles. "A delegate hunt."
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