It was a nice April day when one of the world’s most famous women dropped by a school in an out-of-the-way place to chat with students and staff about their challenges and dreams.
That’s how Hillary Rodham Clinton started her presidential road trip this week, visiting Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa.
But it’s also how she spent an April day back in 1999, at a junior high school in Queens as she prepared to run for the U.S. Senate in New York. “We need ideas from young people,” she told the students 16 years ago.
On Tuesday, she voiced a similar sentiment, saying at Kirkwood that she hoped to “find ideas that not only work in Iowa but that can work anywhere.”
So much has changed since Clinton ran for the Senate. Yet so much seems familiar.
“They took out the old playbook and dusted it off,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “What does she do to keep reinventing herself in a way that keeps her from being defined strictly by the Republicans? The remedy is the same thing she did when she ran in New York. The remedy is the listening tour.”
Three ways that Clinton’s 2015 campaign trip echoes the 1999-2000 “listening tour” that took her to small towns, churches and schools all over New York:
COUNTERING ACCUSATIONS OF ENTITLEMENT
Clinton won the Senate race in 2000, overcoming complaints that she was a carpetbagger who had no right to represent a state where she never had lived. She also had to counter critics who said that the Senate nomination was handed to her because her husband, Bill, was president.
Concerns about that sense of entitlement linger today.
So how do you deflate accusations that you do not deserve something? You work for it.
“I’m hitting the road to earn your vote,” Clinton said in the video Sunday that marked the start of her presidential campaign.
That’s exactly what she did in the Senate race, said Judith Hope, who headed the New York State Democratic Party when Clinton ran for the seat. “She is very serious about that. It’s not just rhetoric.”
There’s one big difference, of course, between then and now.
In 1999, she had never held political office. Her resume today now includes senator, 2008 presidential candidate and secretary of state. Still, said Miringoff, she has to make “it look like she’s not taking anything for granted.”
LISTENING TO THE LIKE-MINDED
Clinton’s listening tour events were not open town meetings where she might be heckled or challenged. They were controlled gatherings with invited guests and topics determined in advance such as education, health care and family issues, where her positions were often predictable reiterations of her husband’s.
She did not echo Bill Clinton’s views on Tuesday as she chatted with students and staff from Kirkwood about the school’s career-track courses. But she did say she supports President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community colleges free.
The listening tour was often mocked as Clinton traipsed endlessly to small, remote spots such as Penn Yan, New York, population 5,000. Often reporters had no opportunity to ask questions after events. The sleepy, long-winded discussions rarely generated headlines or sound bites.
But those who attended often seemed thrilled by the chance to meet Clinton. The intimate settings gave her time to grow into the role of a politician who could press the flesh in a crowd with ease.
Even in Iowa, where voters presumably are accustomed to shaking hands with presidential candidates, the reception verged on worshipful Tuesday in Monticello, population 3,800.
“We’re just regular people,” said student Jason McLaughlin. “We appreciate that you came here on your first stop. Coming to Kirkwood is huge.”
Associated Press writer Beth J. Harpaz covered Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first Senate campaign and wrote a book about it, “The Girls in the Van.”
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