By Luciana Lopez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton launched a bid on Thursday to draw young voters and small donors to her campaign, targeting the strengths of her rival, Bernie Sanders, as she looks ahead to the general election.
Dubbed "for45" - for Clinton as the 45th president of the United States - the group will offer associate level membership for as low as $250, according to an invitation for an April 25 Philadelphia event seen by Reuters.
"We will have an opportunity to fundraise and host low-dollar events, speaking to what we are passionate about and why we support her," said Akilah Ensley, a 32-year-old Clinton supporter planning to join the group. "It's important that we engage."
The group held its first conference call on Thursday to discuss the effort, featuring the Clinton campaign's finance director, Dennis Cheng, other campaign officials, and actress Lena Dunham, according to an invitation to the call seen by Reuters.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The formation of the group underscores the challenge facing the former secretary of state in winning over the young people who have helped power Sanders' run with millions of small donations - a critical voting block and source of financing should she win the Democratic nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Clinton has a commanding lead over Sanders in delegates, and stemmed the Vermont senator's momentum by winning New York's primary earlier this week.
But she has struggled to attract younger voters. While she won New York on Tuesday by 16 points, Sanders took 65 percent of Democratic voters aged 18 to 29, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research and published in the New York Times. Younger voters have also turned out more heavily for Sanders in other states.
Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida who is not affiliated with the Clinton campaign, said for45 was a "smart way" to begin courting Sanders' supporters. He compared it with the "Gen44" group of young voters that supported President Barack Obama.
"Anything that spurs people to get involved financially, it just builds more ownership in the campaign," he said.
The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Luciana Lopez; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)