BRIDGEPORT — Hillary Clinton has her sights set on virtually locking up the Democratic nomination for president with a clean sweep in Tuesday’s five Northeastern primaries.
But a win in Connecticut is hardly guaranteed.
That’s why Clinton has spent three of the last four days campaigning in the Nutmeg State, hoping to sure up her comfortable-but-not-certain lead in the polls.
After a number of smaller events in the state, Clinton made her final scheduled public appearance in Connecticut at the University of Bridgeport’s Harvey Hubbell Gym Sunday afternoon. The former secretary of state made her closing argument – a general-election-ready pitch for creating opportunity in the 21st century – in front of the 1,200 people at the rally.
“What really is at stake in this election?” Clinton asked supporters at the rally. “The Republicans want to undermine and set back our rights.”
Contrasting herself with the Republican candidates, she passionately enumerated positions on a wide range of issues, from ensuring affordable education to fighting big-money interests on Wall Street.
The crowd hung on every word she spoke, responding with applause to nearly every line.
The wearied candidate nearly lost her voice midway through the speech, coughing and pausing to take a drink of water. She took a cough drop, and the audience responded with applause.
Clinton told supporters at the rally Sunday afternoon if they joined together, they would “make progress together.”
“I’m asking for your help on Tuesday,” Clinton said. “If you will vote for me on Tuesday, I will stand up and fight for you through this campaign and all the way into the White House.”
Drawing contrast with Sanders on gun control, Clinton looked to showcase her liberal bona fides on an issue where she says the Vermont senator has had a less consistent record.
“We have to take on the gun lobby, and we have to take on the epidemic of gun violence in America,” Clinton said. “We cannot go on like this.”
While she did not address Sanders directly, she spent nearly five minutes of her stump speech on what she called “an epidemic” of gun violence, saying the passage of new federal gun control legislation would be “a centerpiece” of her administration.
Looking to create leverage among Democrats, Clinton told those in attendance gun control needs to be “a voting issue.”
Clinton then turned to her possible Republican opponents, railing against the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and its effect on international relations.
“I have to tell you, when you hear what Trump and Cruz say, it’s not only offensive,” Clinton said. “It’s dangerous.”
But while Clinton may be pivoting to the general election, the fight for the nomination is not over yet.
Sunday’s rally drew more attendees than her forum on gun violence in Hartford on Thursday, but comes just hours before her Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is set to host what is expected to be an even larger rally on the New Haven Green.
With the fight for the nomination drawing near to its conclusion, the contrast between the two could not be any more stark, nor could the stakes be any higher.
While Clinton has held the lead in the two most recent Connecticut polls, a loss is still within the realm of possibility. A win for Sanders in Connecticut or any of the other four so-called “Acela primary” states on Tuesday would give his campaign justification to continue its fight to the national convention.
If Clinton wins, however, the Sanders campaign could be prompted to reevaluate its position in the race and scale back some of its stronger attacks.
While her last public campaign event in Connecticut might be over, Clinton is not leaving the state just yet. She is scheduled to attend a fundraiser Sunday night in Stamford hosted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and the state’s entire congressional delegation.
Clinton has already held campaign events in smaller settings than Sunday’s rally. Her forum on gun violence Thursday in Hartford – Clinton’s first visit to the state during the campaign – drew about 350 people at the Wilson-Gray YMCA.
On Saturday, Clinton traveled to New Haven for a by-invitation-only roundtable on income inequality and economic disparity with U.S. Rep.
Rosa DeLauro, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and state Senate President Pro Temp Martin M. Looney. About 25 people attended the event.
Clinton’s events may have been smaller in size, but Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he has not seen any enthusiasm gap between the supporters of Clinton and Sanders in Connecticut.
“The energy and enthusiasm in this room and around the state of Connecticut that I have seen over the past few days, I think, will translate into very positive, welcome results this Tuesday,” Blumenthal said. “At the end of the day, it is step by step, state by state, putting together the coalition that eventually will assure a Clinton victory in November.”
Blumenthal and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy both spoke in support of Clinton during the rally. They shared stories about the importance of turning out to vote, which highlighted the importance of a win in Connecticut for Clinton.
Sanders is hosting his first event in Connecticut Sunday night in New Haven. He is scheduled to make one more appearance at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford on Monday morning.
Scheduling an event for Monday morning proved difficult for the Sanders campaign, as they spent several days trying to reach an agreement with the University of Connecticut to host an event in Storrs. They could not find a suitable arrangement, and his campaign proceeded to search for an alternate site.
Sanders’ light schedule in Connecticut came as a bit of surprise to many of his supporters in the state, as he only trails Clinton by single digits in the most recent polls released.
In Pennsylvania and Maryland, Sanders trails by 15 percent or more in the most recent polling.
A Gravis poll released Wednesday shows him within 7 percent in Delaware. No polling has been conducted in Rhode Island since mid-February, when Sanders trailed Clinton by 9 percent in a Brown University survey.
Quinnipiac University released its latest Connecticut primary numbers on Wednesday. Its survey found Clinton had 51 percent support among the state’s Democrats while Sanders trailed with 42 percent. Seven percent were undecided.
An Emerson College poll released on April 12 showed a tighter race, with Clinton at 49 percent and Sanders at 43 percent. Six percent were undecided.