By Patrick Healy – – – – –
Hillary Clinton presented herself as the quintessential hometown candidate on Wednesday afternoon as she kicked off her campaign for New York’s presidential primary on April 19, a contest that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is also determined to win in their battle for the Democratic nomination.
Mrs. Clinton used a rally at the Apollo Theater in Harlem to recall her efforts on behalf of New Yorkers as one of their senators for eight years. In doing so she contrasted her concrete actions, like fighting for health care aid for emergency workers after the Sept. 11 attacks, to the ambitious promises of Mr. Sanders and the harsh language used by the leading Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump.
Recalling her work in Harlem to combat a childhood asthma crisis when she was senator, Mrs. Clinton took an implicit shot at Mr. Sanders and his unabashedly liberal agenda, saying that she was focused on working with doctors and community leaders to get results.
“It’s wasn’t about making a point. It was about making a difference,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Some folks may have the luxury to hold out for the perfect, but a lot of Americans are hurting right now, and they can’t wait for that. They need the good, and they need it today.”
Mr. Sanders, who plans to hold a rally in the Bronx on Thursday afternoon, has developed a strong following among New York Democrats because of goals like a $15 minimum wage, free public colleges and Medicare-for-all universal health insurance. He spent Wednesday campaigning across Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday; Mrs. Clinton campaigned there on Monday and Tuesday, but her current schedule, through Sunday, does not have her returning there.
The senator is far behind Mrs. Clinton in their race to accumulate the 2,383 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. He is counting on victories in Wisconsin and especially New York to pick up delegates and deal setbacks to Mrs. Clinton. It would be a humiliating blow for her to lose the New York primary, given her history and ties in the state; while it might not significantly affect her delegate lead, it would inevitably trigger questions about the strength of her candidacy and her appeal among liberals.
As Mr. Sanders crisscrossed Wisconsin, he attacked Mrs. Clinton for supporting what he characterized as “disastrous” trade policies that led to thousands of Wisconsin jobs being shipped overseas and several factories closing or scaling back across the state. He also criticized her for voting as a senator to authorize American military action in Iraq.
At the Harlem rally, both Mrs. Clinton and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who introduced her, repeatedly invoked her history as a New Yorker — she moved to the state to run for the Senate in 2000 — to distinguish her from Mr. Sanders, even though he was born and raised in Brooklyn. Mr. Schumer, in a nod to Mr. Sanders’s thick Brooklyn accent, said of Mrs. Clinton, “she may not always ‘tawk’ like we Brooklynites talk, but when she speaks out, she changes minds, she changes hearts, she moves to action and she changes outcomes.”
Mrs. Clinton said that she was as ambitious as any New Yorker but that Mr. Sanders’s plans would never be realized because Congress would oppose them or because “the numbers don’t add up.”
“My opponent says we’re just not thinking big enough,” she said. “Well, this is New York. No one dreams bigger than we do, but this is a city that likes to get things done, and that is what we want from our president, too.”
Mrs. Clinton had tougher words for Mr. Trump, saying he “plays coy with white supremacists” — Mr. Trump was slow to disavow the support of David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader – and “says demeaning and degrading things about women.” She also used the same language from a new campaign commercial, which says New Yorkers of all races and backgrounds pull together to tackle major problems and implicitly derides Mr. Trump for offering solutions like building a wall on the Mexican border.
“Our diversity is a strength, not a weakness,” she said. “Together we can face down the worst.”
She also bashed Mr. Trump for promoting the use of torture against enemy combatants and suggesting that Japan and South Korea may need their own nuclear weapons, and lumped those remarks with a recent comment by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican candidate, about fighting terrorism by increasing surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods in America.
“It doesn’t make them sound strong — it makes them sound in over their heads,” she said. “You know, loose cannons tend to misfire. And in a dangerous world, that’s not a gamble we can afford.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz have both sharply criticized Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy ideas as weak and wrongheaded, saying she would continue President Obama’s “failed” approach to combating the Islamic State and preventing terrorist attacks.
Mrs. Clinton has shrugged off such attacks, and bragged in Harlem at one point that she had received nearly 9 million votes in the primaries so far — about a million more than Mr. Trump and 2.5 million more than Mr. Sanders. She pledged to “work for every vote in every part of this state,” and has scheduled campaign events in Westchester County on Thursday and Syracuse on Friday.
“New Yorkers took a chance on me, and I will never forget that,” she said, referring to her election to the Senate in 2000. “You have always had my back, and I’ve always tried to have yours.” A few moments later, she drew strong applause when she added, “Now I’m once against asking for your confidence and your vote.”