In Pennsylvania, like New York, Clinton plays up her local ties
SCRANTON, Pa. - If all politics is local, Hillary Clinton is hoping she can be a local in more than one place. After a blowout victory in New York and a relentless focus on her hometown credentials there, Clinton is now playing up her ties to delegate-rich Pennsylvania.
Her father, born and reared in Scranton, ‘‘thought it was God’s country,’’ Clinton said Friday. ‘‘We went there every single year.’’
She ended a busy day Friday with a raucous rally Friday night before 1,200 people - and a memory-lane visit to a local Italian restaurant in Scranton, where patrons included a couple who had lived next door to her grandparents ‘‘on Diamond Avenue,’’ Clinton said later. She had a rare on-the-road reunion here with brothers Hugh and Tony Rodham, who, she noted, still take a summer trip to a family cottage on nearby Lake Winola.
‘‘It just brings back a flood of the best memories and the best people,’’ Clinton said at the rally. ‘‘This place has a lot of not just memories, but special meaning to me, and the thing I want you to know more than anything else is I will work my heart out for the people who live in Northeastern Pennsylvania,’’ she said. ‘‘I will be a good partner because we have work to do.’’
The local-girl schtick was an expansion of a staple of Clinton’s stump speech, in which she has talked about her grandfather, who worked in a lace mill in Scranton, and the American trajectory that allowed her own father to then become a small business owner and send her to college.
But she went local in other areas of the state, too, seeking to leverage her big lead here into a victory in Tuesday’s primary that would effectively extinguish rival Sen. Bernie Sanders’s persistent challenge for the Democratic nomination.
The senator from Vermont is hardly ceding Pennsylvania or the other four states with contests Tuesday, as evidenced by his full campaign schedule of recent days. On Friday, he gathered with faith leaders in Philadelphia and focused on military and veterans issues in Gettysburg before heading to Millersville University, where mostly young, enthusiastic supporters filled a gym for a rally where Sanders continued to press his differences with Clinton and highlight her Wall Street connections.
In Pittsburgh, Clinton ate capicola and cheese at Primanti Bros., a restaurant of local renown where the specialty of the house is french fries on, not beside, your sandwich. That was Clinton’s only stop in Pittsburgh, the state’s second-largest city, but one designed to showcase local knowledge. She flew nearly an hour each way for the 40-minute stop, and ate her sandwich in full view of news cameras - something she is usually loath to do.
In Jenkintown, during a discussion of equal pay for women, Clinton repeatedly turned discussion of national issues, including gun control and education funding, back to Pennsylvania.
‘‘I have followed what’s going on in Pennsylvania. You now have towns and cities in Pennsylvania repealing common-sense gun measures because they are afraid of being sued by the NRA,’’ she said.
She noted that she had learned to shoot a gun behind the family cottage before saying that responsible new gun-control measures can be enacted with the support of gun owners and without infringing on the Second Amendment.
‘‘I have followed with great distress the battles over the Philadelphia schools, and the refusal of the state to provide a decent level of funding for the children. It’s just awful,’’ she said.
Clinton is famously wonky and loves a good briefing book. The local references are partly a reflection of doing her political homework, but Clinton was also making a point about her qualifications and her long ties to both the issues and leaders of a big swing state.
At nearly every stop in the state this week, Clinton was accompanied by local, state or nationally elected Democrats, a show of institutional Democratic Party support that stands in implicit contrast to Sanders.
‘‘I say welcome home, because Secretary Clinton has northeastern Pennsylvania blood running in her veins,’’ Scranton Democratic Mayor Bill Courtright said at the start of Friday’s Scranton rally, as supporters held aloft a sign reading ‘‘Clinton Country.’’
Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., who also stumped for Clinton on Wednesday in Philadelphia, told the Scranton crowd that Clinton ‘‘has the character, the experience, the record’’ to be president.
Her heavy focus on Pennsylvania, including a full day of campaigning across three cities Friday, followed weeks of intensively local references and appearances in New York, often alongside local officials who effusively praised her work on behalf of the state, or a particular city or neighborhood.
The strategy worked, even if Clinton was ribbed in the New York tabloids for obvious pandering.
Like many Americans, Clinton has roots in many places. She grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts and law school in Connecticut, then lived and worked in Arkansas after marrying native son Bill Clinton. She served as a New York senator for eight years, and she and the former president still live near New York City. She rarely claims Washington despite her eight years as first lady and the fact that she still owns a home there.
Her links to Pennsylvania are different - she has never lived in the state - but there is genuine affection for her here, as well as a long political history, said former state Democratic Party chairman T.J. Rooney.
Rooney, a Clinton supporter, noted that several factors favor her Tuesday, including the state’s closed primary system, in which only registered Democrats or Republicans may vote in their respective contests, and the long history between the Clintons and Pennsylvania Democrats.
‘‘They show up,’’ he said of former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife in Johnstown, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg last week and was scheduled to appear on her behalf around Philadelphia on Saturday. He had been in Scranton earlier in the month.
‘‘Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are a part of the fabric of Pennsylvania,’’ Rooney said. ‘‘It’s not a home game, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.’’
Clinton won Pennsylvania in 2008, defeating then-Sen. Barack Obama at a time when Obama had become the front-runner and Clinton was under pressure to drop out of the race. The victory energized her supporters and strengthened her argument that she had no duty to step aside - just the argument Sanders is making now.
Clinton leads Sanders by double digits in most recent polling in the state. A Franklin & Marshall College survey released Thursday put her ahead 58 percent to 31 percent among registered Democrats who are likely voters.
In an interview, Casey said he is confident Clinton will win - and then begin the work of winning over Sanders’ supporters.
‘‘I have a very strong sense that she’ll win Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and that she can win it with a cushion if we all keep working,’’ Casey said.
As to what Sanders should do if Clinton’s showing here and in other states voting on Tuesday means Sanders can never catch up to her in delegates, Casey said it’s up to Sanders to decide, ‘‘but I think the faster we get to unity the better.’’