When Hillary Clinton takes the stage on Thursday in New York City to boost Democrats in her deep blue adopted home, it will be an unfamiliar scene for someone who was the party’s presidential standard bearer just six years ago.
Clinton, despite being one of the best-known Democrats in the country, has been one of the party’s least visible surrogates at campaign rallies in recent years. Her event with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will be the first candidate-specific rally she will headline this year. That New York Democrats are asking for her help to juice turnout in Manhattan underscores the deep anxiety coursing through the party as Election Day nears, with Hochul locked in a tight race against Republican Lee Zeldin.
Clinton will join Hochul, Vice President Kamala Harris and New York Attorney General Letitia James for an event at Barnard College that, organizers say, will bring together the top female political figures in the state and nationally to energize women voters to turn out and elect Hochul to her first full term. Hochul, New York’s first female governor, was elevated to the top position in August 2021 following former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid sexual harassment scandals.
Clinton, according to a spokesperson, will make the case for Democrats’ record on the economy and urge unconvinced voters to consider the alternative, arguing they must take Republican candidates – some of whom have flirted with the idea of altering Social Security and Medicare – at their word.
That line of messaging echoes what former President Bill Clinton said in remarks last weekend at a rally for New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is leading the party’s House campaign arm but is seemingly deadlocked in a fight for his own future. Bill Clinton, who has equally been far less visible on the campaign trail since Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, used his first candidate-specific event of the year to say Democrats in Washington “took office in a terrible time and they’re making it better.”
Republicans, he said mockingly, are running on a platform that says, “This is a real problem. Let’s vote for somebody who will make it worse.”
Hillary Clinton will also offer a callback to her 2016 stump speech, the spokesman said, when she often quoted poet Maya Angelou by saying, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
In 2016, the line was aimed at Donald Trump, with Clinton urging voters to take literally what the Republican candidate said when some analysts suggested he was only blustering. Clinton on Thursday will “widen” the broader Republican Party who say they care about crime but are “only worried about crime when it is politically convenient.” The spokesman noted that some Republicans have made light of the attack on Paul Pelosi, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband – a point Clinton has made in interviews.
“I hope that voters really rally in this last week, before the midterms, to understand fully what’s at stake, to not get diverted,” Clinton told MSNBC on Tuesday night. “Like I said, the Republicans have been talking about nothing but crime. When a crime is committed against Paul Pelosi, they could care less.”
She added: “The Republicans talk a good game, but they rarely do anything, other than try to take away your freedoms, undermine the quality of our life, make our political discourse violent, instead of bringing people together.”
Organizers also acknowledge that Clinton’s and Harris’ involvement in the rally will further nationalize the race, an obvious strategy by Democrats to take advantage of the natural political tilt in a state both Clinton and President Joe Biden carried by around 23 percentage points in 2016 and 2020.
The competitiveness of races in the greater New York area have increased both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s political visibility. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton ventured to the newly drawn 18th Congressional District, where he attended a National Veterans and Military Families Month event with Rep. Pat Ryan, who was elected this summer to fill current Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado’s seat in the soon-to-be old 19th District. He also headlined an event for Josh Riley, the Democrat currently running in the 19th District.
A spokesman for the former president also told CNN that he has plans to also headline events for Hochul and Rep. Josh Gottheimer in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District before Election Day. Gottheimer, who is running for reelection in Northern New Jersey, was a speechwriter for Bill Clinton in 1998.
Democrats currently control every major state and citywide office and legislative body. No Republican has won statewide office in New York since former Gov. George Pataki secured a third term in 2002. But Hochul, who faces many of the same headwinds beating down Democrats across the country, now finds herself in a surprisingly competitive race with Zeldin, a Trump acolyte, who has hammered her on inflation, crime and a controversial bail reform law passed in 2019 – more than two years before she became governor.
Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler, who is running against Maloney in the 17th Congressional District and is allied with Zeldin, acknowledged Hochul was dealt a bad hand – her three Democratic predecessors all left office in disgrace – but argued she has leaned too hard into a messaging around “abortion and Trump”
“For the people who those are absolutely their top issues, they were already voting for you,” Lawler said. “So who did you appeal to with that? From that perspective, they did not broaden their base at all.”
Hochul, though, will be as reliant on broadening her support as making sure turnout in New York City is robust – particularly in the liberal enclaves where abortion rights are a leading concern and Clinton, though she may divide opinion among national Democrats, remains a popular figure.
“This is her state. These are her people,” a Hochul aide said of Clinton, a former New York senator, and the Barnard event.
Clinton has been a frequent advocate of Hochul’s candidacy. She headlined a fundraiser for Hochul during her gubernatorial bid and spoke at the New York Democratic Party Convention on the governor’s behalf in February.
But fundraisers, interviews and more issue-focused events have been the extent of Clinton’s involvement in the 2022 midterms. In October, the former presidential candidate headlined a rally in San Francisco for California’s Proposition 1, a question that would put an overt protection for “reproductive freedom” into the California State Constitution.
Clinton has also spent considerable time on her outside organization, Onward Together, a group that has helped fund scores of Democratic organizations.
Bill Clinton, likewise, has fundraised for candidates and committees and taped get out the vote messages for different groups, but the former president who is known to relish the hand-to-hand politicking of campaign events, has not been a staple at them in recent years.
At his rally for Maloney in Nyack, he made a comprehensive case for both his friend and former staffer, as well as the Biden administration and the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.
“If you vote (Maloney) out and the other guy gets in, and Kevin McCarthy becomes the speaker of the House, he at least had the guts to tell us what his platform is,” Clinton said last weekend. “His platform is to cut Medicare, to cut Social Security. It’s unbelievable. And go back to letting the drug companies charge whatever they want for drugs and take the cap off insulin prices and to cut back on aid to Ukraine and get back in bed with Putin.”