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Hillary Clinton places herself in tradition of FDR at campaign launch

Updated

Hillary Clinton officially kicked off her second presidential campaign with a large rally on Roosevelt Island in New York City Saturday and policy-heavy speech that placed her in a long line of Democratic presidents and looked clear past the primaries to the general election.

“[I’m running] for everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out,” said Clinton, who lost her 2008 presidential bid.

With the summer heat cut only by a light breeze, 5,500 supporters turned out, according to a campaign official, to mark the ceremonial beginning of Clinton’s full-fledged campaign after an April soft-launch. An overflow area was hardly filled when Clinton took the stage, however.

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Clinton’s speech, which aides have said will serve as guiding document for the rest of her campaign was like a policy sandwich. It began with history, was filled with a meaty list of policy goals, and concluded with her personal motivation for seeking the highest office in the land. In between she bashed Republicans and struck a populist economic tone. What it lacked in sweeping rhetoric it made up for in policy wonkery.

Clinton opened by placing herself in the sweep of history of Democratic presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the namesake of this venue, to her husband, Bill Clinton, to her former boss and rival, Barack Obama. And she noted how she would advance that history by being the first woman elected president. There was no mention of the fact that Clinton will have to first win the Democratic primary before she can compete for a place among those presidents in earnest.

She traced the history of middle class from the Great Depression to the Great Recession, saying she will level the playing field and tackle economic inequality. “You have to wonder, when does my hard work payoff? When does my family get a head? I say now. Prosperity can’t just be for CEOS and hedge fund managers. Democracy can’t just be for billionaires and corporations,” she said.

But at the center of the speech was a lengthy list of policy goals, framed around the “four fights” of her campaign. 

To help families, she called for universal pre-kindergarten, paid sick and family leave, and new rules to make workers’ schedules more predictable for child care and education. To create jobs, she called for rewriting the tax code, and creating an infrastructure bank to help fund improvements. And to address climate change and boost the economy, she called for making the U.S. the world’s “Clean Energy superpower” through greater investment in clean energy. 

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Clinton also called for easing the “crushing burden of student loan debt,” but did not go so far as to call for debt-free college, which her Democratic opponents and many liberal advocates have endorsed.

It was a  “mostly a typical Democratic speech,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who was on hand to spin reporters after Clinton’s remarks. “It was much better than what Republicans have to offer, but not the bold populist economic vision that most Americans want,” he told msnbc. 

Clinton closed her speech by explaining her personal motivation for mounting a second presidential run, which she said she owes to her mother. 

Dorothy Rodham was 8 years old when her parents put her on train to California to live with relatives, who were not much warmer than the parents who abandoned her. At 14, she left home to make her own way in the world and found work as a housekeeper for a woman who took her in and helped her out. 

Clinton was extremely protective of her mother’s story during her last presidential bid, since her mother was not proud of the circumstances of her upbringing. Dorothy Rodham mother passed away in 2011. 

“Because some people believed in her, she believed in me,” Clinton said, and because of that she believes in America. Clinton said she wished her mother could have lived longer, but said her legacy lives on in Clinton’s dedication to helping others. 

Clinton also threw some jabs at Republicans on “trickle-down” economics immigration reform, abortion, and LGBT rights.

But her Democratic opposition was glossed over. The only reference came when Clinton said she was looking for a “great debate” between both Democrats and Republicans.

Bill Hyers, the campaign manager for Democratic rival Martin O’Malley, responded to Clinton’s speech by saying Democrats are tired of “status quo thinking.” “We need someone who can bring new leadership, strong progressive values, and a record of getting things done to the White House–and that person is Martin O’Malley. He has been fearless and specific in the progressive agenda,” he added.

In another marked contrast to her 2008 campaign, when Clinton downplayed her gender, she leaned into the history-making possibly of her candidacy today.  She went off script to joke that while she “might not be the youngest candidate in this race, I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

She also said she would be the first grandmother in the Oval Office, and said she dreamed of an America where a “father can tell his daughter you can be anything – even president.”

Clinton leaned heavily on the symbolism of her announcement venue. She pointed to the United Nations building just across the river to highlight her tenure as America’s top diplomat and drew attention to the new World Trade Center building over her left shoulder to discuss her work on behalf of 9/11 first responders.

But mainly, the venue was an opportunity for Clinton to connect herself to Roosevelt, who dramatically expanded the role of government in America for the 20th Century.

Four Freedoms Park, named after the four fundamental tenants Roosevelt laid out in his 1941 State of the Union, was built in 2012 after years of delays thanks to the largess of many progressive donors, including some who are also backing Clinton.

Immediately after the event, Clinton will travel to Iowa, the first-in-the nation caucus state that derailed Clinton’s presidential ambitions during her first presidential run in 2008. She’ll then head to New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, which also hold early presidential primaries and caucuses.

Clinton has kept a low profile since her April launch, meeting with small groups of voters on the campaign trail thus far. Now, her presidential bid will begin in earnest with larger and more frequent events. “Welcome to the campaign,” communications director Jennifer Palmieri said at event previewing the rally Friday night.

“There’s been a lot of pent up energy,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who flew up this morning to attend the event. “People have been waiting for this aspect of the campaign to begin.”

Reed was joined by Philadelphia Mayor Richard Nutter, who was one of the few black leaders to endorse Clinton in 2008, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has become a national progressive leader, skipped the event.

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Hillary Clinton places herself in tradition of FDR at campaign launch

Updated