By Evan Halper and David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton’s long-anticipated announcement Sunday that she’s running for president may not have said much about policy, but it delivered an unambiguous message about the voters and a major theme she hopes will carry her to the White House.
Clinton does not appear until two-thirds of the way through the two-minute, 20-second announcement video. Instead, her campaign presented a montage of the modern Democratic electoral coalition: two young mothers, one talking about moving to a new home with a kindergarten-age child, the other about going back to work after five years of child-rearing; a pair of Latino brothers planning to start a business; a gay male couple about to marry; a black couple expecting a child; a young Asian-American woman preparing to graduate from college; an older white woman talking about her plans to retire; a white man starting a new job.
Each of the characters speaks briefly about their plans before Clinton appears to declare that “I’m getting ready to do something, too. I’m running for president.”
“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she says. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”
The words and images were a clear effort to counter an attack that Republicans already have begun to levy — that Clinton, 67, is a product of the past. The video associated her, relentlessly, with Americans talking about their own futures. The optimistic feel also contrasted with the tone of some Republican statements that have suggested the country is on the verge of crisis because of President Barack Obama’s policies.
Meanwhile, by putting a diverse group of Americans symbolically onstage with her, the video did two other things. It highlighted the Democrats’ claim to be the party that represents a changing America, particularly the women and minority voters whose support was crucial to Obama’s two victories. And it sought to undo the image of an aloof candidate with a sense of entitlement that dogged Clinton seven years ago when she lost the nomination to then-Sen. Obama.
Humility has already emerged as a theme of a campaign staff at pains to avoid the perceived mistakes of 2008 and to reassure Democratic primary voters that they will be appropriately courted.
At a final pre-launch staff meeting over the weekend, senior advisers distributed a memo outlining guiding principles, which included, “We are humble: we take nothing for granted, we are never afraid to lose, we always out-compete and fight for every vote we can win.”
Republicans, of course, will contest each of the points Clinton makes, regardless of her staff’s attitude. In statements that began arriving in reporters’ in-boxes even before Clinton’s announcement, leading Republicans criticized her as lacking vision for the country, supporting big government and having a lackluster record as secretary of State.
“Hillary Clinton represents the failed policies of the past,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said. “Does America want a third Obama term?”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used the Clinton announcement as part of a fundraising solicitation to supporters and said the country “must to do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy that has damaged relationships with our allies and emboldened our enemies.”
Clinton will try to maintain her focus on voters and the future as she visits key states, starting Tuesday with a two-day visit to Iowa. Aides say she will spend several weeks conducting small-scale events, including some in voters’ homes, before staging a kickoff rally in mid-May.
By then, Clinton may need to go beyond the warm, but vague, promise to champion the needs of everyday Americans and begin taking specific positions on issues. Even as she announced her campaign, Democrats on the party’s left, who have not found a candidate able to mount a serious challenge to Clinton, pushed their effort to influence the policies that she’ll espouse.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Clinton ally who managed her campaign for Senate in 2000, said Sunday that he was in no rush to endorse her.
De Blasio said he would wait to endorse any Democrat “until I see an actual vision of where they want to go.” Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he offered kind words for Clinton, but added, “We need to see the substance.”
Liberal advocates, some of whom had hoped that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would challenge Clinton, would like to see tougher regulation of Wall Street, stricter environmental rules and an expansion of Social Security, rather than the efforts at mild trims that Obama has at times advocated. Clinton’s words about the economic deck being stacked against regular Americans nodded to their concerns, but they’re almost certain to push for more.
Many also oppose the trade agreement with Asian and Pacific nations that Obama is pushing this year. A possible congressional debate on that issue this summer could force Clinton to take a position that would be divisive within the party.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has strongly opposed the trade deal, issued a statement applauding Clinton but urging her to “reject corporate-driven agendas that produce everything from tax breaks for the wealthy to destructive trade agreements.”
Whether Clinton can carry out her desire to spend the next several weeks getting up close and personal with voters remains to be seen. The campaign’s plan calls for her to visit voters in homes, diners and college campuses.
The approach is intended to leave the impression that Clinton will be shaping her policies around the feedback she gets from middle-class voters confronting real-life challenges.
But as a prohibitive favorite for the nomination and one of the most recognized people in the country, Clinton can’t truly emulate the informal nature of a startup campaign. Wherever she shows up, a horde of reporters follows.
At the same time, Clinton is seeking to raise a record amount of campaign money. Allies say donors have had their checkbooks at the ready, waiting for her to announce. Minutes before the announcement video went live, Clinton’s senior adviser, John Podesta, sent an email to past donors breaking the news and saying that fundraising would start with conference calls later in the day.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand to help Hillary,” said former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, who was a major fundraiser for Clinton in 2008. “There are tens of thousands of people who want to give all kinds of amounts.”
The absence of serious primary competition means fundraising will be less arduous for Clinton than for Republican hopefuls, he said.
“The challenge will be the campaign’s message,” Blanchard said. “It won’t be raising money.”
(Los Angeles Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Kurtis Lee contributed to this article.)
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