Hillary Clinton will lay out a personal rationale for her second attempt at the presidency Saturday in a major campaign rally to be held at a party honoring Frank Delano Roosevelt in New York City.
The former secretary of state soft-launched her White House bid April 12 in a video posted online. But Saturday’s rally will mark the beginning a full-fledged presidential campaign after eight weeks of a low-key ramp-up.
In the presence of a giant bust of FDR on an island between Manhattan and Queens named after the former president, Clinton will offer her most expansive remarks yet on why she’s making a run for the White House yet again.
Thousands are expected, with tickets to the event no longer available on Clinton’s campaign website. Bill and Chelsea Clinton will be on hand, but are not expected to speak.
Those who make it onto Roosevelt Island or watch on TV from home will see a very different Clinton than the one who lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama. Whereas Clinton was often seen as impersonal and bloodless then, she now plans to say the chief motivation of her public life is her late mother. Whereas Clinton was seen as moderate and cautious last time, she will now embrace a president --FDR -- who remade the country in a more progressive image.
The symbolic shows that as the Democratic Party has moved left on social issues and both parties have become more populist, Clinton is finally catching up, longtime Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said.
“Maybe it's left compared to the era of triangulation, but the era of triangulation over and is not where the party is or where the country is, as she discovered in 2008,” he said.
Times have changed and with even Republicans discussing income inequality, Clinton is demonstrating she gets it. “I think she's sending a very clear signal,” said Shrum.
“If you want to understand Hillary Clinton, and what has motivated her career of fighting for kids and families, her mother is a big part of the story."'
That comes from a personal place, she is expected to say.
In remarks prepared for Saturday's launch, Clinton planned to say that her mother’s brutal childhood is what motivated her to get into public service and work as an advocate of women and children, a campaign official said. Her mother’s story will be the foundation of her rationale for running for president.
As a child, Dorothy Rodham was abandoned by her parents and sent to live with strict relatives. Not able to bear it anymore, she ran away at 14 and worked as a housekeeper for a kind-hearted woman who took her in and showed her what parenting should look like.
Her mother's trauma and resilience, Clinton has said, taught her and how to be tough and made her want to help people in difficult circumstances. “No one had a bigger influence on my life or did more to shape the person I became,” Clinton wrote in her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices.”
Clinton’s mother will likely emerge as a recurring motif of the campaign, aides said, as the candidate travels to Iowa and then New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
“If you want to understand Hillary Clinton, and what has motivated her career of fighting for kids and families, her mother is a big part of the story,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director.
In an attempt to reintroduce her to voters -- or introduce her for the first time to millennials who were just children in the 1990s when Bill Clinton served 2 terms as president -- the campaign has produced a biographical video covering Clinton’s lengthy career. It starts with her work at the Children’s Defense Fund, just after she left Yale Law School, and continues through her time at the State Department.
The rest of her speech will strike a decidedly populist economic tone, the official said. And she’ll preview policy ideas that will be rolled out in more detail later this summer.
Clinton will also take on Republicans. Instead of addressing the Democrats running against her for the party’s nomination, she’ll look clear past them to the hypothetical GOP nominee she would face next year if she wins the primary. She’ll frame the election as a choice between her economic ideas and those of the Republicans.
Likely to go unmentioned are Democratic rivals including former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who have all mentioned Clinton in their presidential announcements.
Like many good presidential kick-offs, Clinton’s launch is expected to mix symbolism and substance. Barack Obama chose the place where Abraham Lincoln gave his "House Divided” speech. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders announced at outdoor rallies in the cities where they once served as mayor. Rick Perry last week launched his run in front of a cargo plane he flew in the Air Force.
Clinton chose a park honoring FDR in the state where she was twice elected senator.
“She could have chosen anywhere to make her announcement,” said Felicia Wong, the President of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank dedicated to carrying on the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. “By choosing this venue, she and her team have put themselves squarely in the legacy and the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, who re-wrote the rules of the 20th century.”
Roosevelt is credited with creating the modern welfare state, saving the economy from collapse, taking on entrenched wealthy interests, and defeating an expansionist, totalitarian foreign power. At the same time, he built the modern Democratic Party and the values that would emerge at its core to this day.
Clinton has long seen Eleanor Roosevelt, a fellow first lady, as a role model and last year spoke admiringly about Teddy Roosevelt, saying she devoured Ken Burns’ expansive documentary series on the family.
The kick-off comes at time when Clinton is trying to win over restive progressives. Tying herself to Roosevelt is a smart move, says New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It is very much aimed to the left,” said Sheinkopf. “She needs to get rid of everybody who’s pestering her on her left, and one of the best ways to get rid of them is to invoke Franklin Roosevelt.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a leader of the national progressive movement, will notably not attend the rally, his office has said. Clinton and de Blasio are longtime friends and he managed her Senate campaign in 2000. So far, however, de Blasio has declined to endorse Clinton’s presidential bid.
Sheinkopf thinks de Blasio is playing hard to get in order to amp up the value of his endorsement down the road. Comparing de Blasio to “artillery” when it comes to defending her left flank, Sheinkopf said it’s too soon: “De Blasio is less needed now and more more needed later. Why do you want to use a howitzer now, when frankly when you can use much lighter weapons?”
Her embrace of Roosevelt and progressive ideas is about more than the primary, however. She’ll need the so-called Obama coalition to turn out for her in a general election if she makes it there, and these are the issues they care about. “With the increasing polarization of the country, the fact is the key to winning these election is turning out your base,” said Shrum, who has held senior roles in Democratic campaigns.
Still, Clinton has not yet weighed in on a few top issue for liberals. The House will vote Friday on a Trade Promotion Authority bill, which labor unions and others are fighting tooth and nail. That will have to wait until sometime after her kick-off.