In the years since he left the White House, former President Bill Clinton has become a New Yorker. He has an office in Harlem, sits in courtside seats at Nets games and spends summers days in exclusive Hamptons enclaves.
He has also spent years schmoozing with nearly every Democratic elected official, union leader and constituency that makes this raucous city work.
Those relationships are paying off as the Democratic contest heads to the April 19 primary in New York and Hillary Clinton looks to defeat SenatorBernie Sanders of Vermont in the state where she served as a United States senator. It is also where she and her husband had had resounding victories in previous primary campaigns.
As Mrs. Clinton held a rally in Purchase, N.Y., on Thursday before heading to Syracuse on Friday, Mr. Clinton crisscrossed Manhattan hosting campaign events with union members and mostly minority voters.
“The New York primary and the psychological impact it will have on the rest of the country and the rest of this race is not — I don’t have the words to explain it,” Mr. Clinton, who is not typically at a loss for words, told members of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York on Thursday afternoon in the city’s Flatiron district. “I can just tell you that, for her, it means more than you will ever know.”
As Mr. Sanders hopes for an upset to humiliate Mrs. Clinton on her home turf and revive his underdog candidacy, the Clintons are grinding for a New York victory that will solidify her delegate lead and put a proverbial lid on any doubts about her candidacy.
“Look, this primary is really important,” Mr. Clinton said Thursday. “It’s important to her personally because she loved being a senator, and she knows this state and she knows what its promise is.”
By the late afternoon, Mr. Clinton was talking to teachers in Battery Park City and reciting exact polling data from when Mrs. Clinton ran for the Senate in New York in 2000 (“The last poll said she was three points ahead,” he said. “She won by 12.”) and about her approval rating (“When she left the State Department job, she had 69 percent approval rating.”)
Mr. Clinton’s work on behalf of his wife in New York has also been waged quietly and behind the scenes as he taps into decades-long relationships to help her win in the state.
On Monday, Mr. Clinton met with more than 50 religious and community leaders in Harlem and Queens to discuss issues that have particular resonance among African-Americans, like criminal justice reform. Representatives Charles B. Rangel and Gregory W. Meeks attended, along with Rev. Calvin O. Butts III of Abyssinian Baptist Church and City Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens.
The former president held similar meetings with Latino leaders in the Bronx at sessions that included Congressman José E. Serrano and Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Clinton, speaking to members of the Service Employees International Union in Midtown, recalled Mr. Diaz’s memories of his first visit to the Bronx in 1992.
“When Jimmy Carter came, he said, ‘Oh, the poor Bronx, we have to help them,’” Mr. Clinton said. “When Ronald Reagan came, he said, ‘Look at the Bronx, it’s a mess.’” But, Mr. Clinton, continued, “He said ‘When you came, you said I see the future.’”
“We always support who supports us,” said Ken Telford, 62, a union organizer who came to hear Mr. Clinton on Thursday
New Yorkers have not always been so welcoming.
In 1992, after rumors of infidelity rocked his presidential campaign, the then-governor of Arkansas had a rude awakening in New York. A New York Times article described him as “a smiling tourist who has made eye contact with the wrong pedestrian” and The New York Post ran the headline “Gennifer & Bill Romped in Our Apt: Ex-Roomie.”
But Mr. Clinton learned the city and its spheres of influence. He wore a skullcap to Brooklyn to talk to Hasidic Jews in Borough Park after his opponent, Jerry Brown , the former and current governor of California, had upset Jews by appearing with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had referred to New York as “Hymietown.”
On Wednesday, accepting an award from the Irish America Hall of Fame for his work on the peace process in Northern Ireland, Mr. Clinton recalled bonding with the Irish in New York, another group Mrs. Clinton will need in the primary.
“What happened to me — and it sort of happened to me — began here in this city, late at night, almost exactly 24 years ago when I was trying to win the New York primary,” he said.
That night, a group of powerful Irish-Americans and sympathizers, including Harold M. Ickes, a Clinton adviser, and former Representative Bruce Morrison of Connecticut, had assembled to talk to Mr. Clinton about the fighting that plagued Northern Ireland.
Years later, after Mr. Clinton helped to broker the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that effectively ended the conflict in Northern Ireland, his daughter, Chelsea, wrote her senior thesis at Stanford about the history of Irish-American politics. “She said: ‘You know, Dad, you didn’t care about this when you came to New York. You just wanted the Irish to vote for you,’” Mr. Clinton recalled.
“Well, not quite, but close enough,” he said. “‘But afterward, you really did care,’” Mr. Clinton said his daughter had told him.