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Greg Bluestein

Bernie Sanders looks to press home-court advantage in Brooklyn

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Bernie Sanders. AP Photo.

Bernie Sanders. AP Photo.

New York – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders returned to familiar ground two days before the New York primary, imploring a crowd of 20,000 at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to set a “record-breaking turnout” that will stun Hillary Clinton.

The Democrat took aim at Clinton throughout the rally at the sprawling park, slamming her opposition to a $15 minimum wage, her support for the Iraq war while representing New York in the U.S. Senate and her stance against a carbon tax targeting global warming.

And he presented himself, as he does at most of his populist-fueled rallies, as the best Democrat to take on Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

“We’ve won eight of the last nine primaries and caucuses, and with your help on Tuesday we’re going to win right here in New York State,” he said. “This is a campaign that will defeat Donald Trump. Mr. Trump will not become president of the United States. That’s for sure.

Sanders grew up here. Clinton made her first foray into political office here. And both candidates hope for home-court advantage when New York Democrats vote on Tuesday.

The state has a whopping 247 pledged delegates up for grabs at the primary, and Sanders would need a dominating win here Tuesday and in Pennsylvania, Maryland, California and other states up for grabs over the next two months to surpass Clinton’s dominant lead over pledged delegates. Any realistic path to the nomination also relies on convincing Democratic elites who are “superdelegates” to ditch Clinton’s camp.

For Clinton, who has commanding leads in most New York polls, a defeat here would be a disastrous embarrassment to her campaign – and the loudest signal yet of her failure to unite the Democratic Party. She’s campaigning around the state as well, including rallies in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island Sunday in hopes of solidifying her support in New York.

Sanders hopes for an upset on the scale of Michigan, a surprise March win that breathed new life into his campaign. Short of that, he’s trying to pick off delegates across the state – mostly from vote-rich Democratic bastions in New York. Brooklyn alone has nearly 1 million registered Democrats. That’s about one-sixth of the registered Democrats across the state.

A common theme emerged among more than a dozen Sanders supporters interviewed here Sunday: Don’t count out a comeback win.

“He can win New York, I really think he can,” said Tracy Wuischpard, who was at the rally with her husband Bruce. “His supporters are not being counted in the polls – they don’t reflect the younger voters. Clinton’s campaign is going to be shocked. They’re really going to be shocked.”