In New Jersey, Clinton’s (Sorta) Hometown Advantage

This is our second in a series of stories previewing Tuesday’s primaries. See our California primary preview here.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is betting big that a multi-day campaign swing through California can help her edge out Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in next week’s primary, but by the time the polls close in the Golden State, Clinton may well have amassed the number of delegates necessary to capture the Democratic presidential nomination — thanks to voters on the other side of the country.

Along with California, New Jersey voters get their chance to weigh in on the Democratic nominating contest on Tuesday, when they will award 126 delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia. And while polls show California will be a neck-and-neck contest, New Jersey has all the looks and feels of Clinton country.

For all of Clinton’s struggles to put Sanders away, New Jersey appears primed to give her a win on Tuesday. Through two presidential contests, Clinton has won New York and Pennsylvania twice; this year, she won Connecticut’s primary, too. All four states have older electorates with significant minority populations, all groups with whom Clinton has excelled.

New Jersey also holds a semi-closed primary, meaning independent voters must specifically request a Democratic ballot when they show up at the polls. Independent voters, with whom Sanders has done best, made up just 19 percent of the electorate in 2008. Sanders has won few states in which the share of independents participating is so low.

Few public polls have been conducted in New Jersey in recent weeks. The latest, a Quinnipiac survey published in mid-May, showed Clinton leading by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.

But results from elections past show Clinton should have an edge.

Eight years ago, New Jersey occupied a much more prominent place on the Democratic calendar, alongside a handful of other states that held nominating contests on Super Tuesday, on February 5. As Clinton’s then-rival Barack Obama notched big wins in small states that day, Clinton herself took an important win out of New Jersey, fueled by many of the same voters who knew her best.

Clinton, at the time New York’s junior senator, had spent heavily in 2006 to make sure she won re-election by a wide margin. That effort included plenty of television advertising in the New York City media market, which bleeds across into the Jersey suburbs where commuters live.

Clinton won the state by about 112,000 votes — and nearly half of that margin came in Bergen and Hudson counties, just across the Hudson River from New York. Collectively, Clinton beat Obama in those two counties by 48,000 votes. Add in Middlesex County, east of Staten Island, and Clinton’s margin in the New York area grew by another 18,000 votes.

New Jersey’s politics are often defined in terms of its neighboring metropolises, New York in the north and Philadelphia in the south (Benjamin Franklin once supposedly defined New Jersey as a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit). And much of the rest of Clinton’s margin in 2008 came from suburban voters near Philadelphia; Clinton won Gloucester and Camden counties by a combined 22,000-vote margin.

Obama, on the other hand, did best in the New Jersey’s more urban core. He took 57 percent of the vote, an 18,000-vote margin, in Essex County, home of Newark, the city with the largest African American population in the state. His second-best county, Mercer, is home to Trenton, another bastion of minority political power.

This time around, it’s Clinton who has done best among minority voters, who play a big role in New Jersey Democratic elections. In 2008, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans made up a total of 39 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls.

Older voters play a disproportionate roll, too: 58 percent were over the age of 45 in 2008. Sanders has struggled to make inroads among those voters, while he laps Clinton among voters under the age of 30, who made up just 13 percent of the Democratic primary electorate four years ago.

Democrats in North Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota also get a chance to allocate their delegates in Tuesday primaries.