Bill Clinton is making a big play for the union vote in New York

Clinton, Sanders Close in WI Poll
Clinton, Sanders Close in WI Poll

Former President Bill Clinton is making a big play for the union vote as the battle heats up between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New York's presidential primary.

In a Thursday speech in front of a local Service Employees International Union chapter, a few blocks away from Times Square, Bill Clinton struck a populist tone, criticizing shareholders and top management of major companies that do not raise wages for workers.

"The problem is that in private companies, 80 to 90% of the profits are going to shareholders and top management, instead of workers, communities, and even customers, who are being hurt," Clinton said.

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The former president also repeatedly attempted to draw distinctions between his wife and Sanders. Clinton took a shot at Sanders for his stance on a 2006 immigration-reform effort and cast the Vermont senator's single-payer healthcare plan as costly and unrealistic.

"There's a big difference between talking change and making change," Clinton said.

He continued:

It's interesting that the governor of Vermont — Vermont, the only governor in America that ever had the courage to try to have a single-payer system — he found, just like the experts that it was going to cost twice what he thought it was, and would take half the state's budget.

"He gave it up. And guess who he is supporting for president? Hillary," Clinton said, referring to Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The stop was Clinton's first of a day-long tour of union meeting places, where the former president was expected to deliver similar remarks.

The speech came as the Clintons have made a major push ahead of the New York April 19 primary, where 291 delegates are up for grabs. Hillary Clinton, a former New York senator, also held a Wednesday rally in Harlem.

She further spoke earlier this month in front of a union-heavy audience at the Javits Center, where New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and several top New York City elected officials also urged their state to give Clinton a big win.

"As long as you are fighting for the rights of the working families of Americans, I will be too," Clinton said at the Javits Center.

Sanders has also attempted to woo unions in his push to win New York.

Two of the senator's major campaign stops in New York took place in front of union-friendly audiences. He addressed a crowd of Communications Workers of America picket line in Manhattan last October, shortly before garnering the union's endorsement. Many of the same union workers packed the auditorium at the senator's major address on the financial industry in New York in January.

But though Clinton has secured the endorsement of major unions in New York, including SEIU and District Council 37, union members have been a natural Sanders constituency, and many union members are backing the senator.

Diana, a New York SEIU member who attended multiple Clinton events, pointed out that a row of union members toward the back of the room who she said were supporting Sanders.

She said she similarly bucked the union's endorsement of President Barack Obama in 2008.

"Even though the union was for Obama, I was for Hillary," Diana recalled.

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