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Clinton or Sanders? Democratic Latinos Vote In New York Primary

New York Latinos go to the polls on Tuesday after being heavily courted by both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns.

NEW YORK — A Bernie Sanders canvasser knocked on the door of Democratic strategist Luis Miranda’s colleague and asked for his colleague’s son, Carlos.

Told he wasn’t there, the canvasser left, not bothering to engage Miranda’s partner at his consulting firm.

“They wanted to talk to the 20-year-old. They are very focused on where they have mined their votes,” said Miranda, founding partner of MirRam Group LLC.

The generational divide in the Latino electorate, which is younger and has a larger share of younger voters than the national electorate, has become increasingly visible in the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders competition for the Democratic presidential nomination and has set the stage for Tuesday's New York primary.

Related: New York's Closed Primary Could Be Bernie Sanders' Achilles Heel

At the start of the month, with the Wisconsin primary next in line, but much of the political attention already on New York, the feud between 36-year-old Sanders surrogate Rosario Dawson and 86-year-old Dolores Huerta broke out, serving as a microcosm of what appears to be a generational split.

That has deepened as the two Democrats have gone to their bases of support in New York.

For Clinton, the campaign has been like a local girl coming home to ask the Latinos who supported her through two elections to the Senate and the 2008 presidential primary to vote for her again, said Miranda.

This year's primary has been reminiscent of the 2008 primary in New York, which Clinton won over then Sen. Barack Obama and had strong support among Latino leaders.

“It was very similar with Obama appealing to younger voters and her with most of the [support of] Latino elected officials with the credentials of having been the champion for Latinos . . . This is like a replay,” Miranda said.

Heading into Tuesday, the latest poll was showing Clinton with at least a 10-point lead in New York. But she and Sanders have been running the primary race here knowing nothing is a certainty, including support from Latinos.

The stakes in the New York contest have ratcheted up after Sanders picked up wins in late March and early this month. On Monday, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Clinton holding a two-point lead over Sanders nationally.

A similar split was found among Latino registered voters in a poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute.

Related: Poll: Latino Voters Nearly Evenly Divided Over Clinton, Sanders

“Two years ago and again this year, we did the campaign for (New York State Sen.) Adriano Espaillat against (U.S. Rep.) Charlie Rangel and half the battle was that it was very different for someone who had voted for Charlie 21 times to give a chance to a new guy,” Miranda said.

“We are creatures of habit and I believe that is a real advantage Hillary has, she comes into and electorate that knows her and votes with her,” he said.

But with younger voters, “many were probably teenagers when Hillary was our senator. And because Hillary has had such a history of relentless attacks by the right, it is a generation that has heard plenty of negative things about Hillary from a young age,” he said.

“That’s what she’s battling. They don’t have first-hand experience of her being a senator of the state and having been a good senator for Latinos,” Miranda said.

Fourteen percent, about 1.9 million, of all of New York’s eligible voters are Latino. The vast majority of the state's Latinos are in New York City. About 42 percent of Hispanic eligible voters in New York are of Puerto Rican origin, 21 percent are Dominican and just 7 percent are Mexican.

“It’s nice to have someone that is having revolutionary ideas and actually gonna make change happen that’s needed." – Stuart Sebastian Peña, Bernie Sanders supporter.

For the past week, the two candidates have been pursuing their share of that population with vigor, holding rallies and events in the city’s heavy Latino neighborhoods and facing off over their immigration platforms.

At an April 9 Bronx Community College rally for Sanders, Stuart Sebastian Peña of New York City said he was supporting Sanders because the senator from Vermont understood the needs of diverse communities.

“I have heard a few things here and there that I have been on the fence about with every politician, because you know, every year it’s the same,” Peña said. “It’s nice to have someone that is having revolutionary ideas and actually gonna make change happen that’s needed.”

Franklin Obando, a student at La Guardia College from the South Bronx dismissed the Clintons as “the establishment” and how she has “flip-flopped a lot.”

“It directly affects my community, the Hispanic community, and the underprivileged, the 99 percent or the 90 percent, getting money out of politics,” Obando said.

On Monday, Sanders went to a Queens neighborhood where many of the residents are of Colombian descent. Shouts from campaign staffers of "Bernie Sanders is here" drew people from the neighborhood to greet him.

Of course there are those who break the trend on both sides of the campaign.

Minerva Solla, 65, said she was driving in Kingston, where she lives, when she happened to bump into a Sanders clean air rally.

"I was blown away by the large venue ... I learned a lot that day and I was impressed on how Bernie's agenda was to save our planet," said Solla, a longtime activist and union organizer who is Puerto Rican and grew up in Manhattan.

Solla was a member of the "Young Lords" an activist Puerto Rican group in New York that took over a church to provide food and services for people in their community. She also has been active and a leader in the 1199SEIU union in New York.

"I deeply believe that Bernie is building a movement, educating, the communities, about the issues that (the) community cares about and educating the Democratic Party not to be afraid to speak up about what community is talking about," she said in an email.

But with the reality that young people have lower turnout rates, as well as the fact that New York has a closed primary system that will keep out independent voters unless they changed their party affiliation months ago and that polls are showing Clinton as the likely winner, Solla was prepared to cast a ballot for Clinton if Bernie does not win the nomination.

"Even if Bernie is not the nominee, he won the presidential campaign and Hillary has a part in her heart of Bernie," she said. "And guess what? That is going to lead her to victory. But the victory cannot be for Clintons and the Democratic Party. The victory has to be for all people."

Spectators listen as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes part in a round table to discuss immigration, public housing, and the current economical state of Puerto Rico in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas JacksonLUCAS JACKSON / Reuters

Clinton seemed to be showing a bit of comfort with how the contest might go when on Sunday she danced to merengue music to close out a rally in Washington Heights that featured a number of Latino leaders.

Last week, some of her political surrogates spoke out against Sanders’ record on immigration on the steps of City Hall. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta were joined by Dan-El Padilla Peralta, author of the memoir, "Undocumented."

"She has been a supporter of Latino youth for quite some time." – Dan-el Padilla Peralta, DREAMer and Hillary Clinton supporter.

Padilla, who is Dominican, credits Clinton with helping him to get legal status while she was senator and making sure that he was not barred from re-entering the U.S. when he left to fix his status, because he had been illegally in the country for a period of time, which is a risk under the law.

“Her track record is very clear. She’s a supporter of the DREAM Act, she’s a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. She has been a supporter of Latino youth for quite some time,” Padilla said. Clinton featured Padilla in a political ad she released in New York in early April.

The DREAM Act is the name of legislation that would provide a path to legal status to young immigrants who came to the U.S. with family without legal permission and are in the country illegally. Such young people call themselves Dreamers, after the law.

He called the failure of the 2007 comprehensive immigration bill “calamitous” and said it failed due to resistance for lawmakers such as Sanders who voted against it.

“Given her track record on immigrant affairs and given her track record, I think the choice is obvious,” he said.

Additional reporting by NBC's Kelly Carrion, Hanna Guerrero, Brian Latimer and Daniel Freeman.

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