Hometown Hillary Spends Stretch As Small-Town Girl

And so now New Yorkers hunker down for six long, luxurious and surely uninterrupted years of being represented in the United States Senate by Hillary Clinton.

Under house arrest within New York State, she spent much of the final week of her Senate re-election campaign looking as if she were running for mayor of Tinytown.

Even as her husband hopped about to assist in key races around the country, the Senator’s appearances downgraded over the weekend from rallies before hundreds to wildly intimate retail-politics moments before mere dozens.

A few days before the election, she even started to slip off the A.P.’s Metro New York Day Schedule—so much so that she didn’t even appear in the first draft A.P. calendar for Nov. 7 itself.

That day, in the nearly 12 hours between voting near her home early in the morning and attending the big Dem to-do in Manhattan on election night, Mrs. Clinton planned to chill in Chappaqua.

Despite her end-of-year disappearance, it’s true that all her campaign had to do this season was stay out of trouble. And Mrs. Clinton did that at least one better.

The added bonus was to do well in conspicuous ways, to ramp up the margins among groups that were reluctant to vote for her when she first ran in 2000: conservative Catholics, rural upstaters, firemen in Patchogue.

The press has repeated this idea early and often. But it’s been a while since she has ventured further east than Jamaica, Queens. The job was, apparently, done. Numbers, somewhere, must say so.

Mrs. Clinton is also subject to a cruel set of forces that apply, for now, only to her. Not only could she not stray into Iowa or New Hampshire, she could not, after a certain date, leave New York. She could not campaign too aggressively, either for herself or against Republican incumbents in Congress, because that would give rise to a storyline about what an angry person she is. And yet she could not abandon the coordinated effort for a Democratic take-over.

Hence what has been—for her—a relatively light public load over the past couple of weeks. And, related! Stories like the one in The New York Times about how she’s finally having fun on the campaign trail. Or the one in New York magazine about how, in New York, she’s now at liberty to be “unscripted” and “loose” and “free.”

Then, of course, there’s the obvious explanation for it all, delivered with typically devastating understatement by Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson: “So I just think from a strategic perspective, if you’re running for re-election, it’s important to spend the last couple days in your home state, asking voters for their votes.”

That sounds nice.

Mr. Wolfson was taking Election Day easy himself. He got up early and, after a while, ventured out to vote. Then he realized that he hadn’t read a book in four or five months, so he went to the Barnes & Noble at Broadway and 82nd Street.

“And if she leaves the state to go campaigning,” said non-Clinton political strategist George Arzt, “people are going to say she doesn’t have her eye on the prize—she has her eye on the Presidency, not the Senate race; she doesn’t care about New York. It gives fodder to the opposition.”

“She’s doing what she has to do,” he said. “I’m sure she’s giving a lot of help to [Harold] Ford. I’m sure that she’s giving help—giving money and troops—to other areas.”

On Saturday morning, Mrs. Clinton showed up super-lively at the Martin Luther King Jr. Club in Harlem. White boys were putting Cuomo signs along 125th Street. But the press was there, as well as the constant and arranged accompaniment of live bodies, those cheering supporters with Hillary signs. Those would disappear soon for good.

On Sunday, Nov. 5, the Clintons attended the Reverend Floyd Flake’s church in Jamaica, at 111th Avenue. They were late. A small crowd from the earlier service gathered. “Saw Hillary so much, forget about it,” said one woman, passing by. “I mean, I’ll vote for her.”

And an older woman, with grumpy humor: “You know they always at our church when it’s election time.”

Then both Clintons hit a decent-sized rally in Yonkers in support of State Senate candidate Andrea Stewart-Cousins. This was where Mrs. Clinton’s ostensible opponent, John Spencer, was once mayor. Tuckahoe Road was swimming with Democrat signs. The Royal Regency Hotel, no beauty to start with, was so deeply under renovation that it had to have “We Are Open” signs all over it. It was like a physical manifestation of “John Spencer sucks!”

Ms. Stewart-Cousins orated, with a bunch of pols—Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo and Mrs. Clinton—all in a line behind her. Mr. Clinton actually stood behind his wife, sometimes with hands on both her shoulders, sometimes rocking. New York has a lot of great Americans, Ms. Stewart-Cousins said, “including past and future Presidents.” Something awesome happened: Mrs. Clinton’s usual up-down head bobble actually went instead, gently, to side-to-side.

Mr. Clinton told a story. “We have now been married for 31 years,” he said. “In that time, I have not won many arguments. I’m gonna be in trouble later.”

He said that he’d hated having to go campaigning back in the early days in Arkansas, and said he really always thought it should have been her. “I think you are the most gifted person I ever met,” he said he’d told her. “And she looked at me and said, ‘Ahh, you’re crazy. I’m too hard-headed; I’m too opinionated.’”

Andrew Cuomo fled the event first, in his Ford Expedition. Like Busta Rhymes, Mr. Cuomo drives himself.

Mr. Clinton hopped into his hybrid. Mrs. Clinton went to the McDonald’s. She ordered a coffee. Oh, really? “And a few other things,” she said later.

This is where things started to get spooky.

Mrs. Clinton ventured up into Dutchess County. Lagrangeville, east of Poughkeepsie, is a hamlet of LaGrange—population: 15,000. A bit fewer than 150 were gathered in an actual barn on behalf of Kirsten Gillibrand, a candidate for New York’s 20th Congressional District. “I’m thrilled to see all of you out,” Mrs. Clinton said. She stumped on stagnant wages, and the “vast majority of Americans,” and generational upward mobility. “I think Franklin Delano only carried it once,” she said of Dutchess County. “Never,” muttered people in the audience. “Never!” she said.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” she said.

Kirsten Gillibrand is a peach-toned woman from cow country. She’s mild and has soft hair and talks so sensibly. She sounds like your cousin in the kitchen—anti-politician, but without the idiot part.

It was 5 p.m. and dark out. The crest of the hill beyond the barn was black. Mrs. Clinton took to the crowd and worked her way along in a high, hard meet-and-greet.

By that time, back down in Yonkers, all the campaign signs had been disappeared, except for a few left rolled up in the men’s room of the hotel.

Very early Monday, Mrs. Clinton shook some hands at the Parkchester subway stop. By 10:45 a.m., she made it downtown, in a tailored-yet-puffy black coat, at the NYPD’s First Precinct. There were an equal number of press vs. cops and firemen. Guess which group was better-looking? Nobody knew what to write about this little event, so largely, no one did.

From the barn to the Bronx subway, the appearances got ever smaller. A senior center in Staten Island? Then to Howard Beach—the exquisitely camp Water View Diner at 163rd Avenue, where the specials were a veal stew with garden vegetables for $10.25 and a baked meatloaf with mushroom sauce for $8.95.

Mrs. Clinton got there at about 2:30 p.m. and went around a dining room, saying hi to the 20 or so people—almost exclusively older white women—then taking a table with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and some district leaders.

“Can we have an order of French fries for the table?” Mrs. Clinton asked. “For the press?” The press present were about three photographers, one of them freelance, and a three-person German TV crew. “Seriously,” she said, “you guys want anything to eat?”

“Can I have another one of these, please?” she asked, raising her glass of what seemed to be Diet Coke with lemon.

Anthony Weiner wandered in. This is his district—sort of once Chuck Schumer’s. “How’s everybody doing?” he asked. This was like Mayberry by way of Miami Beach. “There’s a chair right there for you,” Mrs. Clinton said.

People chatted. “Yeah, I’m hitting a wall,” Mr. Weiner said. “You know, when you hit 42, you’ll see.”

“I’ll let you know,” Mrs. Clinton said.

He wanted to know what was going on upstate. “I was up in Dutchess County,” she said. She leaned in to talk about the Gillibrand-Sweeney race. “He tried to blame her” was one of the things she said.

She ate some French fries dipped in ketchup with a fork.

Oh, someone turned on the P.A. “When you have a microphone in Howard Beach, you should sing a little, eh?” said Mr. Weiner. He was wearing a plaid blazer.

“Go, Anthony!” said Mrs. Clinton.

He talked; she talked. “It is great to be back here. We’re having a good time at this table,” she said. “We’re sitting down together and just relaxing.” Just relaxing! Happy Nov. 6!

“If you don’t vote,” she told the two dozen observers, “you kind of forfeit your right to complain.”

There was a long goodbye. “Well—I’m on to Brooklyn!” she said. Ms. Marshall’s green handbag weighs a ton.

Soon enough, she was at a table for 12 at Junior’s at the Fulton Street Mall, with what looked like more district folk. There was someone from the Brooklyn borough president’s office, but no Brooklyn borough president. A sight never seen: The Secret Service sat down, took a load off, had a beverage. The campaign was over.

Eventually, Channel 12 showed up. It was a little after 5 p.m. The Channel 12 guy wanted a shot of supporters to be created outside. “Can you guys hold up signs for him?” a woman asked some people doing get-out-the-vote leafleting in the Fulton Street Mall. They made news. And now Mrs. Clinton has voted, and thereby retains all rights of complaint.