Hillary Clinton returned to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City on Wednesday to campaign ahead of the state's April 19 presidential primary, delivering a speech that heavily referenced the 2001 terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center.
The former secretary of state, who had previously served as a US senator from New York, and her rival Bernie Sanders, who was born and schooled in Brooklyn, the city's largest borough, both have strong ties to the community. But with three weeks to go until New York voters head to the polls, forecasts show Clinton pulling ahead of Sanders by as much as 48 points.
Clinton appears intent on leveraging her eight-year stint in the Senate on behalf of New York, which covered the pivotal 9/11 era, to sustain if not build on her lead in the days ahead.
In her remarks on Wednesday in front of a crowd of several hundred at Harlem's iconic Apollo Theater, Clinton highlighted her efforts to rebuild the city in the aftermath of the attacks and to pass a healthcare bill for 9/11 first responders, some of whom later developed post-traumatic stress disorder, respiratory illnesses, and cancer linked to breathing toxic dust and debris at ground zero.
"Those eight eventful years I served you, there were some hard times, weren't there?" Clinton said, drawing murmurs of affirmation from the crowd. "But we pulled together. None of us who lived through 9/11 and its aftermath will ever forget the lives lost."
Clinton's speech coincided with her campaign's release this morning of a new 30-second ad against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump called "New York." It shows clips of 9/11 first responders, the construction of the new World Trade Center, and Muslim women wearing headscarves fashioned from the American flag.
"New York — 20 million people strong," she says in the ad. "No, we don't all look the same. We don't all sound the same either. But when we pull together, we do the biggest things in the world."
A portion of Clinton's speech drew on the same language used in the ad.
"When a candidate for president says we can solve America's problems by building walls, discriminating against people based on their religion, and turning against each other… Well, New Yorkers know better," Clinton said, referring to Trump in what was almost a direct quote from the ad.
Supporters at the event said that the trauma of 9/11 remains ingrained in New York — not just the death and destruction, but also the paranoia and hostility exhibited toward Muslims and others after the attacks.
John Reeves, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran and native New Yorker, recalled how a sense of solidarity following 9/11 brought local politicians and the community together in a way that he'd never seen.
"After 9/11, you felt the presence of Hillary, of [New York Senator Chuck] Schumer, the police and fire commissioner," Reeves said as he welled up with tears. "Everybody came out strong, we came together. That's New Yorkers. That's why Hillary's got my vote."
The 2001 terror attacks were "a signal moment that unified New York," said Karina Johnson, a 32-year-old Grenada native who moved to New York in 1987. "It's easy to go back to that as a memory that is in contrast to everything the other side is pushing now in terms of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity."
Clinton "had a great stint as senator — eight years — and we still remember that," she added.
Schumer, a three-term senator, introduced his former colleague at the rally Wednesday, highlighting her work on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Insurance Act to provide responders with healthcare in the face of pushback from Congressional Republicans.
"No one was listening to them when they said 'I'm feeling sick' from the poison that was in the air that they breathed in as they rushed into the towers to try and help," he said. "She became the champion of the Zadroga 9/11 Health Insurance Act…. And now we provide healthcare and dignity for those who rushed to the towers."
There are 247 Democratic delegates at stake in New York's primary. Schumer and New York Representative Charles Rangel, who was also at the rally Wednesday, are among 40 out of 44 superdelegates in the state who are backing Clinton. At least a half-dozen of those superdelegates said this week that they would stick with Clinton even if she loses the primary, according to the New York Daily News.
Although superdelegates are free to switch their allegiance at any point leading up to and at the Democratic National Convention in late July, they usually back the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.
Clinton, whose national campaign headquarters is located in Brooklyn, has been ramping up her campaign in New York. On Thursday she will hold a rally at SUNY Purchase in Westchester County, where she and Bill Clinton own a house. Her husband will appear at four separate organizing events on her behalf on Thursday.
Last month, Clinton also delivered a well-received speech in Harlem advertised as an "Address on Breaking Down Barriers for African-Americans."
Sanders, who opened his first field office in Brooklyn over the weekend, is also increasing his visibility in the state. The Vermont senator will hold a rally in the South Bronx, a majority Hispanic neighborhood, on Thursday evening featuring the actress Rosario Dawson and Residente, an alternative rapper from Puerto Rico.
Because the state's delegates are awarded proportionally, the Sanders campaign is hoping that he can close the gap in polling before April 19 if not pull off a stunning upset like he did in Michigan, where he came from more than 20 points behind to edge out Clinton.
But even if he somehow manages to check her in New York, Sanders faces an uphill battle to erode the lead of 263 pledged delegates that she has built in the primary raceso far.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields