MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — They have come from across the nation, three years before the next presidential contest, to host Hillary Rodham Clinton's first unofficial New Hampshire pep rally.
Organizers said that Friday's event was simply a panel discussion to promote the first female president — whoever that might be. But Clinton quickly dominated the discussion.
"We've got the potential to elect, we hope, Hillary Clinton, who will be the most qualified person to run for president, probably almost ever," former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said and later added, "She is in a league of her own."
"This is going to happen," said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, a Washington-based group that organized the event and works to elect female Democrats across the country. "There is a great group of women in the pipeline who are just as accomplished as their male counterparts — one which we think is above all of them."
The former secretary of state has yet to announce her intentions for the 2016 presidential race. Democrats widely expect her to run, although an announcement is thought to be at least a year away.
Clinton did not attend Friday's discussion, having spent much of the week at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. She hasn't visited New Hampshire since President Barack Obama was elected, according to the state Democratic Party. Still, supporters are mobilizing in New Hampshire and other key states to lay the groundwork for a second Clinton presidential campaign.
Five years have passed since she lost a long and contentious Democratic primary to Obama. There is no such division among Democrats this time — at least not yet.
Friday's gathering included a welcome message from Gov. Maggie Hassan, the nation's only female Democratic governor and an aggressive Clinton supporter in 2008 as a member of the New Hampshire legislature.
Hassan was careful not to endorse Clinton publicly on Thursday. Instead, she called on all women to get involved.
"There is a community, a state and a country that needs you," Hassan said. "They need your voice. They need your experience. They need your perspective."
Women played key roles in electing Democrats for decades, having backed the Democratic candidate over the Republican in each presidential election dating back to 1988. The margin in favor of the Democratic candidate has varied, however, peaking at 16 points for Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election bid and ebbing to just 3 points for John Kerry in 2004.
Obama won women voters by 11 percentage points last fall.
Schriock suggested that Democrats would be heartbroken should Clinton decline to run, but listed a handful of other possible Democratic contenders: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, among them.
Meanwhile, in Washington on Friday, Gillibrand delivered a speech outlining several proposals likely to appeal to female voters, including offering paid family medical leave, an increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and the doubling of tax credits for child care.
"The key to a growing economy, the key to an American middle class that is built to thrive in the 21st century is our women," Gillibrand said.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Washington and AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.