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Hillary Clinton keeps eye on party rivals

Campaign takes root in long shots’ states

Hillary Clinton addressed supporters of Gina Raimondo in October, when the latter was running for governor in Rhode Island. Raimondo, who won, is a stalwart Clinton backer.Stew Milne/Associated Press/file

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton is leaving nothing to chance this time around.

The Clinton presidential operation may look like a juggernaut from the outside, but her attempts to marshal early support in the home states of long shots are evidence that she feels the need to protect every flank, no matter how weak the opposition appears.

In Rhode Island, office space for a local Clinton campaign headquarters was identified early in the campaign; in Maryland, several lawmakers have already lent their names to Clinton for fund-raisers. And in Vermont, she moved quickly to sew up support.

These aren’t states that typically get much attention from presidential candidates. But all three are home to underdogs who have announced, or are considering, their own bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination. That makes the states turf Clinton can’t ignore.

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“She knows there is going to be a media onslaught against her,” said Joe Paolino, a former Providence mayor who will be leasing her campaign office space in Providence. “She isn’t taking anything for granted. This is not a walk in the park for her.”

Eight years ago, Clinton also basked in the aura of inevitability only to be out-organized and out-campaigned by Barack Obama. Clinton’s campaign has pledged that it will avoid mistakes from that race, so this time around her campaign is leaner. The staff is smaller. The offices are less lavish.

Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the organization is making a concerted effort nationally. “Hillary Clinton is committed to earning every vote,” said Gayle in a statement.

Two of Clinton’s challengers are new to the Democratic Party, and therefore lack strong ties with the local party establishments. For Clinton, that made for easy endorsement pickings in Vermont, where Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger revealed his support for her the same day that Bernie Sanders, an independent and former Burlington mayor, said he would challenge her for the Democratic nomination.

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The Clinton campaign reached out to line up the endorsement before Sanders’ announcement, according to a source familiar with the conversation, reflecting an attention to detail. Vermont’s other senator, Patrick Leahy, is also backing Clinton.

Sanders’ camp brushed off the endorsements. “Would you rather have politicians or the people backing you?” said Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs.

Sanders has gone on to raise more than $3 million since he got in the race on April 30; mostly from small donations, according to his campaign. And he’s getting a close look from Iowa caucus-goers, according to a survey out last week. His support rose to 15 percent from zero in February, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University.

Much of it came from people in the liberal wing of the party who hoped Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would jump into the race. She polled at 19 percent three months ago but was dropped from the more recent survey because she’s not running for president.

Another Democratic newcomer challenging Clinton is former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee. On April 9, he said he’d consider a presidential bid.

Within days, current Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, a longtime Clinton supporter, told the Associated Press she wouldn’t back the home state candidate, in part because it is “time to put a mom in the White House.”

Then word leaked to the local press that Clinton was preparing to set up operations in the state — even open an office in Providence. Debbie Rich, a spokeswoman for Chafee, declined to comment on Clinton’s campaign activities, other than to point out that her campaign’s office address was publicized “right after” Chafee revealed he was considering running.

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The Clinton campaign wouldn’t comment on the Rhode Island office and noted that the only official state headquarters to launch so far are in her home state of New York and in New Hampshire, where a Manchester operation opened last week.

Next month, Clinton will make an appearance in Rhode Island for fund-raiser at the home of loyalist Mark Weiner, said Paolino, who is helping to organize the event. He predicted the state’s “entire Democratic establishment” will be behind Clinton.

That’s not surprising, since Chafee was a Republican when he represented the state in the US Senate and an independent when he was elected governor in 2010.

Perhaps the bigger threat to Clinton’s nomination comes from Maryland, where the former governor, Martin O’Malley, has long been considering a presidential campaign. He, too, has seen Clinton incursions in his state.

Shortly after the November 2014 elections, in which O’Malley’s chosen successor lost to a Republican, the Ready for Hillary super PAC scheduled two fund-raisers in his home state sponsored by a raft of Maryland politicians. The organizers wanted a strong showing of local officials backing Clinton.

“They were bombarding us with calls,” said one Maryland lawmaker who was asked repeatedly to participate.

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Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, tried to gin up support for a Clinton “grass-roots organizing meeting” held Saturday in Bethesda, O’Malley’s childhood town.

The former governor’s supporters say that the group backing Clinton represents “establishment” thinking. “It just points to the fact that O’Malley is new blood with new ideas and a ‘can-do attitude’ and the establishment doesn’t normally endorse that,” said Terry Lierman, a former Maryland Democratic Party chairman.

And the O’Malley camp is taking back some ground. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who supported a Ready for Hillary fund-raiser last year, plans to hold a house party for O’Malley this weekend, according to a copy of the invitation.

Clinton will be trying to vacuum up cash in the state at the same time. A fund-raiser for her candidacy is set for next month, said former Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, who has signed on with her as a “Hillstarter.”

“She’s going to have to raise a lot of money,” he predicted.

Across the Potomac River, former Virginia senator Jim Webb is also considering a run for the White House and has been making stops in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Should he decide to take on Clinton, he, too, will have a formidable Clinton ally in his backyard: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a man who has been close to the Clintons since the 1990s.


Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.