NEW YORK — Buoyed on Tuesday night by his decisive victory in Wisconsin, Bernie Sanders insisted that he had a path to the Democratic nomination, one that goes straight through New York.
"Do not tell Secretary Clinton — she's getting a little nervous, and I don't want her to get more nervous — but I believe we've got an excellent chance to win," he told a crowd of supporters.
On Wednesday, Clinton moved aggressively to try to block that path, questioning Sanders' readiness to be president and his Democratic bona fides, even as her allies attacked his opposition to some gun control measures and other groups went after his positions on the Middle East.
It was, in short, opening day for the sort of no-holds-barred battle that New York voters have come to expect in a state that could prove decisive in the prolonged Democratic nomination battle.
Weeks have passed since Clinton and Sanders aggressively fought on the same terrain. Each has tried to pick off favorable locales in which to drive up their delegate counts. But New York is a state that neither can afford to lose.
Clinton retains a large lead in the number of delegates to the Democratic convention in July. If she wins New York, where she leads in polls, her margin over Sanders, already formidable, would be close to insurmountable.
But if Sanders can upset Clinton here, in a state that she represented in the Senate and calls home, his Tuesday night boast of an open path would suddenly seem achievable.
That reality led Clinton to once again begin directly criticizing her Democratic rival after weeks of trying to ignore him in favor of campaigning against Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner.
During a television interview from her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., she suggested that Sanders' answers — or lack thereof — to substantive questions in a New York Daily News interview had "raised a lot of serious questions" about his ability to follow through on his campaign promises.
"You can't really help people if you don't know how to do what you are campaigning on," she said, adding that Sanders "hadn't done his homework."
Later, in a speech to a union gathering in Philadelphia, where voters will cast ballots a week after New York, she said of Sanders that "in a number of important areas, he doesn't have a plan at all."
"We need a president who doesn't just complain about trade. We need a president who knows how to compete against the rest of the world and win," she said.
Having questioned Sanders' competence in one interview, Clinton attacked his partisan bona fides in another.
"He's a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I'm not even sure he is one," she said in an interview with Politico, referring to Sanders' many years as an independent. "So I don't know quite how to characterize him."
Although Sanders has publicly said that his path to the nomination is "narrow," he hasn't shrunk from the fight. He's highlighted the hundreds of thousands of dollars Clinton has earned by giving Wall Street speeches and accused her of supporting trade deals that have cost American jobs.