By STEVE PEOPLES and DAVID KLEPPER, Associated Press
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — Hillary Clinton is not going away. The former Democratic presidential candidate cheered a primary election candidate from Georgia and endorsed one from New York, promising to be an active participant in red and blue states alike in the coming months.
“We’re not going to win every fight — take it from me,” Clinton said with a self-deprecating chuckle. “But if we stand together for the values we share, we will get there together.”
More than 18 months after her election loss, Clinton remains a deeply divisive figure. Her approval ratings have hovered near record lows. Yet few Democrats can match her fundraising prowess and star power.
Clinton is eager to use her assets to help the Democratic Party seize control of Congress this fall, those close to her say. But not all in the party want her help.
Already, the 70-year-old Clinton has been active this midterm season.
She has endorsed Democratic candidates in New York, Michigan and Georgia recently. She helped raise roughly a half-million dollars for groups allied with her year-old political organization, Onward Together, on a single afternoon late last month. She is now weighing how aggressive to be on the campaign trail ahead of the November elections.
“I think she’s an incredibly valuable asset,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is working with Clinton on Onward Together. “Whether it’s behind the scenes or in front of people, it’s up to the individual candidates. She is still wanted in a number of states.”
New York, a state she represented in the Senate, is one place she remains popular. The state features several competitive House races this fall, although Clinton’s focus Wednesday was on the governor’s race, where incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a Democratic primary challenge from liberal activist and actress Cynthia Nixon.
Clinton earned warm applause as she took the stage at the state’s Democratic convention. She endorsed Cuomo over his more liberal challenger, repeatedly praising his accomplishments as governor while ignoring Nixon altogether.
Some liberals in the audience wanted a more diverse speaking program.
New York City Council member Jumaane Williams, who is challenging the state’s lieutenant governor, said the party’s left wing would have preferred an appearance by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, or a more unifying candidate. He worries Clinton’s appearance demonstrates that Democrats haven’t worked to heal the divisions highlighted in the 2016 presidential primary.
“We either haven’t learned our lesson or we don’t care,” he said.
From the same convention stage, Clinton cheered the primary victory of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Republicans on the ground in Georgia cheered Abrams’ victory as well, suggesting that she’s too liberal to win the general election in November.
“I supported her in the primary and I look forward to supporting her campaign in the months to come,” Clinton promised Wednesday.
Georgia Republicans are hoping Clinton follows through. Georgia-based Republican strategist Chip Lake noted that few Democrats have been more polarizing or motivating for the GOP’s most passionate voters.
“We’re going to start a GoFundMe account to pay for her expenses to come down here,” Lake said. “We welcome her with open arms.”
Clinton’s midterm travel schedule is far from set. Spokesman Nick Merrill said it’s too early to say which general election races she’ll likely focus on in the coming months.
“The bottom line is that she wants to be helpful, so we’ll be looking at how best to do that in the weeks and months to come,” Merrill said.
As those decisions are made, Clinton is focused on strengthening Onward Together, which is working to raise money and strengthen the infrastructure for nearly a dozen grassroots political groups.
Clinton’s effort is being run by a handful of longtime aides, among them political strategist Emmy Ruiz, chief of staff Huma Abedin and fundraiser Dennis Cheng.
Clinton and Dean hosted a private meeting of the Onward Together network in late April in midtown Manhattan. They encouraged the related organizations to coordinate their political activities while introducing them to top donors at the end of the day.
Dean said the afternoon gathering generated more than $500,000.
“People care about her, they trust her, and they will take her lead when it comes to where to invest,” said one of the participants, Cristobal Alex, a former Clinton campaign staffer who now serves as president of the group Latino Victory.
“She wants to be helpful,” said another participant and former staffer, Amanda Litman, who now leads the group Run For Something, which encourages young progressives to run for state and local office.
“She knows that sometimes it’s tricky,” Litman added when asked about Clinton’s critics. “But it’s not about her ego. It’s about us being successful however she can enable that.”
The politics can be tricky. While she regularly gets standing ovations during public appearances, Gallup determined that Clinton’s favorable ratings dipped to 36 percent in December, a new low for the longtime public official.
The GOP has already outlined a midterm messaging strategy trying to link vulnerable Democrats to Clinton regardless of how visible she is in the coming months.
Yet some suggest Clinton is giving her opponents more ammunition by maintaining an active role in politics. She’s also continuing to deliver paid speeches. She created headaches for red-state Democrats earlier in the spring as she addressed President Donald Trump’s appeal during an appearance in India.
“His whole campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ was looking backwards,” Clinton told her Indian audience.
The national GOP quickly portrayed the comment as a personal attack against Trump’s supporters as “backwards” and launched a series of digital ads linking Clinton to 10 Democratic Senate candidates running for re-election in states Trump carried.
Several vulnerable Senate Democrats distanced themselves from the comments. North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Clinton can’t go away “soon enough.”
Some Democrats are looking to party leaders not named Clinton to play a leading role in the midterms.
Clinton is “too valuable to be quiet,” said Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the recently formed Democratic Coalition. But he said he’d prefer to see former President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden on the campaign trail again instead of Clinton.
“They have a different appeal,” Dworkin said. “Right now, Hillary is still used as a tool to divide.”