Hillary Clinton's Calculated, Low-Key Campaign Rolls On
KEENE, N.H.—Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is about to get really boring—at least, if everything goes according to plan.
For anyone who paid attention to her trip to Iowa last week, the former secretary of state's agenda for Monday and Tuesday in New Hampshire looks strikingly similar: two small roundtable conversations open to the press but not to a larger audience of voters, a few carefully-staged photo ops at coffee shops and restaurants, plus private meetings with party activists and elected officials.
The biggest differences this week might be the hillier topography and maybe a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s all by design, as campaign aides try to keep the candidate focused on the voters and issues that have compelled her to run, and to scale back the intense media attention unleashed upon her after months of buildup.
But while the staging will offer variations on the same theme, Clinton is hoping to sharpen her message and dig in on her vision on one of the “four big fights” at the core of her campaign—building a better economy, aides said. She’ll use future trips to detail her other priorities, including ways strengthen families and communities, and to get what she’s calling “unaccountable money” out of politics.
Last week, Clinton unloaded on CEOs who “make 300 times more than the American worker” and “hedge fund managers [who] pay less in taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80.” But concrete policy proposals on Wall Street regulations and tax reform are still a way off yet, an aide said.
On Monday, she’ll focus on small businesses and visit Whitney Brothers, a furniture and toy factory in Keene. On Tuesday, she’ll sit down with students and educators at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.
The emphasis is all on the people she meets and not on the ones trailing her. Interviews have yet to be scheduled, aides say, though Clinton will occasionally answer reporters’ shouted questions, which usually aren’t very nuanced, just by nature.
While the campaign hopes to keep the same plodding momentum going as the candidate meets more voters, there could be some bumps—including a brewing trade deal, criticism from the Democrats who may challenge her, and the very way Clinton has chosen to campaign.
With her attention on business and labor, she could be forced to take a more definitive stand this week on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for which she advocated during her time in the Obama administration but is now approaching with more caution as organized labor and liberal activists have come out in opposition to any new trade agreements.
Thus far, her campaign has hedged. On Friday, a spokesman laid out criteria for her support of the trade deal—including that it not just be “trade for trade’s sake”—but didn’t say whether TPP seemed to fall into that category. An aide later said the statement wasn’t Clinton taking definitive position on the agreement reached by lawmakers a day earlier to “fast track” the treaty approval process.
But others considering running for the Democratic nomination have been much more clear. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have both staked out the left’s preferred position, arguing that any new trade deals would be devastating for America’s workers. O’Malley will not support “bad trade deals … that hurt middle class wages and ship middle class jobs overseas,” he said Thursday at the Harvard Kennedy School.
On trade, Wall Street, same-sex marriage and other issues, O’Malley and his small campaign staff have gotten more aggressive in highlighting the differences between him and Clinton.
While he’ll make a final decision on whether to run by the end of May, O’Malley said his campaign wouldn’t be against Clinton so much as for the future—which would include opposing "things like bad trade deals, the systematic deregulation of Wall Street that many Democrats were complicit in and helped get us into this mess,” he said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.
An uncontested Democratic primary would be “extreme poverty” for the party, O'Malley added.
Another Democrat considering a Clinton challenge, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, challenged Clinton's reliance on a “financial leviathan machine” aiming to raise millions of dollars or a campaign aide “whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Walmart or not,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.
As Webb’s comments suggest, Clinton’s travels through Iowa were meticulously staged, with most of the people she met in front of the media pre-screened. Media access to the candidate during on-the-road stops was pre-planned and limited to a small group of journalists. Republicans cast the Iowa trip as a sign that Clinton is so risk-averse and so out of touch that even the “everyday people” with whom she interacts must be carefully chosen.
“A listening tour is not riding in a van, leaning your head out, and saying 'What do you hear?'” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who hounded Clinton’s husband but became friendly with her in the Senate and is considering his own White House bid. “There's more spontaneity in a North Korea meeting. I like her, but I think it's a dumb early mistake.”
Some Democrats other than those considering running against her agree.
“I would do more unscripted. Drop in on diners, drop in on taverns, interact with people,” former Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Because you authenticated these interactions by working without a net. And I think she has to do some of that.”
Closer allies, though, argue that the current plan is the right way to get the campaign going.
“You don’t want somebody yelling ‘iron my shirt,’ which happened in New Hampshire,” said Terry Shumaker, a New Hampshire lawyer who was ambassador to Trinidad during Bill Clinton’s second term. “It’s her first time out in eight years and there’s plenty of time for her to get into this” before primary day, currently scheduled for Jan. 26, 2016.
Clinton advisers suggest that she’s on the same low-key trajectory—which worked so well for her during her 2000 Senate race and once she was elected—for as long as she can stay there.
“Unfortunately, the price of being one of the most recognizable and famous people in the world and trying to connect with real people is that the Secret Service and the hordes of media make that very difficult,” Shumaker said.
—David Weigel contributed to this report from Nashua.