Ahead of New York primary, Hillary Clinton appeals to former constituents: "You know me"

"I feel very good about where I am but I take nothing for granted," Clinton said at a rally in Buffalo Friday.

By Eric DuVall
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday. Clinton is leaning on her experience in New York politics ahead of the state's primary on April 19. Photo by Eric DuVall/UPI
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday. Clinton is leaning on her experience in New York politics ahead of the state's primary on April 19. Photo by Eric DuVall/UPI

BUFFALO, N.Y., April 8 (UPI) -- For a candidate who's admitted she is not the natural charismatic campaigner her husband is, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton got up close and personal Friday to remind New Yorkers that she's someone they've known for a long time.

New York is a state not particularly accustomed to retail politics and Clinton is a candidate who has struggled at times with the style of down-home campaigning favored in earlier states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. But a week into her Empire State campaign, ahead of her home-state's April 19 primary, Clinton made a return to the voters who first elected her to public office -- and she does so at a pivotal moment in the presidential race.


Campaigning in New York requires dexterity. A two-day swing showed just that. On Thursday, she was riding the 4 train in the Bronx. Friday, she rallied supporters at an antique car museum in Buffalo.


Transportation metaphors aside, the differences are plain.

RECOMMENDED Bill Clinton regretful about shouting match with activists during Philly campaign speech

The glitz and grittiness of New York City and blue collar Buffalo are separated by 400 miles -- but in a state as diverse as this, really, they are a universe apart.

Clinton had eight years as a senator to learn the contours of New York politics. Now locked in a primary race that has seen her lose the last six nominating contests to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she is clearly leaning on experience, hoping New York will give her campaign the boost it needs if she is to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

New York street cred

If Clinton's core message in New York could be boiled down to one thing so far, it is her reminding voters: You know me. And as other candidates have stumbled trying to look the part, her New Yorker "street cred" has helped avoid some embarrassing stumbles.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was practically booed out of the Bronx Tuesday by angry Latinos, upset over his immigration stance, when he tried campaigning there. Sanders drew a round of eye-rolls when he professed to know how to ride the New York City subway, with a token -- which the MTA did away with in favor of swipe cards 13 years ago.


Of course, there is another presidential candidate who can claim far deeper New York roots than Clinton, who moved here before her 2000 Senate campaign. Donald Trump is a lifelong New Yorker whose brash persona jives with many of the New York stereotypes.

This primary is the first time Trump's name will appear on a ballot in New York rather than on a building or the side of a bus. Clinton has run here three times -- winning decisively each time.

Speaking at the Buffalo rally Friday, Clinton leaned on anecdotes dating back to her first campaign 16 years ago. Speaking in a quiet, earnest tone, Clinton recalled one of the maids she met at the Buffalo hotel where she stayed during her dozens of trips here.

"During my campaign I spent a lot of time in 1999-2000, here in Buffalo," Clinton said. "I stayed at one of the hotels. I got to know people who worked at the hotel. I got to talk to them ... the very last time I was here, right before the election in 2000, as I was getting ready to leave, one of the maids came up to me. She said 'I want to ask you something.'"


Clinton said the maid implored her, "Don't forget Buffalo."

"She handed me a little snow globe with a Buffalo inside," the former first lady said. "I put that on my dresser. I see that every single day."

Humble start to political career

Things were not always so friendly for Clinton in New York, especially upstate and in western New York, where industrial productivity waned over the decades before she arrived. Factories closed, jobs vanished and local economies crumbled.

Blue collar voters outside New York City were suspicious of a first lady who had proven controversial during her husband's presidency. When she announced plans to run in New York, she was the quintessential political carpet-bagger.

Early in Clinton's 2000 Senate race, voters showed deep skepticism of her motivations.

Clinton embarked on a summer-long "listening tour" in 1999, stopping in small towns and upstate's larger cities -- the kind of campaigning many assumed she would not do, preferring to stick to liberal New York City. Instead, she immersed herself in the vast and complicated economic problems north of the Hudson River. In the process, she convinced hundreds of thousands of upstate New Yorkers, who hold little more than a driver's license in common with Clinton's New York City base, that she understood their problems.


"When I was senator, I didn't just come and talk at you, I talked with you," Clinton said Friday, reflecting on her time in New York politics. "I didn't just talk, I listened. ... Then I went to work."

After eight years in the Senate, though, she still has her skeptics.

RELATED Hillary Clinton rides NYC subway while campaigning in Bronx

In her first campaign she touted an economic agenda she said would create 200,000 jobs. While there are bright spots now in the upstate New York economy, there's scant evidence that Clinton's time as New York's junior senator had anything approaching the kind of economic impact she promised.

Also, while her position on gun control is likely to win votes in New York City, upstate is generally opposed to gun control.

A $15 per hour minimum wage might sound necessary in New York City, but many voters upstate see $15 per hour as a wage worth aspiring to, not a starting point.

New York can be tricky political terrain, something Clinton knows by now.

"In many ways [New York will] decide what happens in this nominating race," Clinton said toward the end of her rally in Buffalo. "I feel very good about where I am but I take nothing for granted."


Latest Headlines