ALBANY – Hillary Clinton rallied Monday morning in Manhattan over the minimum wage.
In the evening, she rallied in an upstate high school gymnasium.
In the middle, she attended her most important rally of the day: a private meeting with state lawmakers who can offer her crucial help between now and primary day, April 19.
For Clinton, engaged in a race for the Democratic presidential nomination against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, winning the Empire State, and winning it handily, is the new key goal for the former senator from New York.
Clinton spent more than an hour having individual photos taken and chatting it up with lawmakers before giving a 15-minute pep rally speech to the group whose political abilities will give her a boost. These are politicians who can activate clubs and committees in an instant to help Clinton, using everything from massive email and social media lists to volunteer drivers to get Clinton voters to the polls.
“Every elected official gets elected in their respective districts. That means there are political organizations within districts and supporters who can roll up their sleeves to work for Hillary Clinton,” said Sen. Michael N. Gianaris, D-Queens.
Clinton and Sanders rely on rallies to get messages out and score some free publicity, especially when their campaigns stroll into regions unaccustomed to getting much attention in presidential primaries.
The private meeting with the party insiders was held despite a snowy day in Albany that forced Clinton to scrub an earlier event in Albany. It was held across the street from the State Capitol at a hotel that, in a previous incarnation, had given life to many political twists and subplots dating back generations.
In the private gathering, the former secretary of state updated the Democrats on the state of her campaign, the importance of New York to her winning the nomination and how she needs the help of the lawmakers in the next two weeks.
Democrats were quick to say Clinton did not appear worried, but all recognized that Sanders, who grew up in Brooklyn, still looms large. “This was really a call to action from her campaign,” said State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who attended. “The meeting here was really the epicenter of the Democratic political movement across the State of New York,” he added, saying Clinton asked the group for help with getting people to attend her rallies and turn out on primary day.
When this race began, New York was not supposed to be in play. Neither were so many other states in recent weeks where Clinton has had to expend resources and time. Clinton won two statewide elections for the U.S. Senate – 2000 and 2006 – in New York, and a number of people who helped her win those campaigns, from union leaders to party insiders, are still key forces in New York politics. Clinton sought to remind Democrats in the meeting of her past work in their districts when she served in the Senate and of what’s at stake in the fall elections.
For all her organization, Clinton now faces the prospect of running a statewide campaign in two weeks. Monday’s meeting was further evidence that if she is not worried about April 19, she’s taking no chances. The people with whom she met have contacts in Assembly and Senate districts in battleground counties that are key to any statewide contest. Their allies will be dropping off campaign materials, operating phone banks and pushing to get targeted voters out to polling places.
“They’re basically creating a grass-roots operation for her,” said one Democratic Party insider. Clinton’s private meeting was about sending a message to that key group of Democrats: “Everyone here in New York has been on the sidelines watching other states. This was to let them know we are going to be center stage on the 19th.”
Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, said, “One of the first political lessons you hear is, all politics is local, and I think it’s very smart of her to make sure that her base comes out strong for her, and I think that’s what she came up here to do.”
Several reporters were kept down the hall from the meeting, although a few words of her speech could be heard before aides shut the ballroom doors. In the meeting, Clinton talked about issues from gun control to the minimum wage, and said she hoped the Democrats could retake the State Senate this year, according to people who attended.
What the lawmakers heard, though, was a rallying call for help. “Hillary is a great governmental person, but she’s also a great political operative,” Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, said after the meeting.
“She realizes that by gathering a roomful of people, all of whom represent in excess of 125,000 people, that she’s actually gathering quite a big political network.”