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Hillary Clinton test-drives lofty speech before friendly crowd

Hillary Clinton earned a hometown welcome Thursday night while campaigning for Tom Wolf and testing out what felt like the makings of presidential stump speech.
Hillary Clinton greets fans and signs copies of her book \"Hard Choices\" at Books and Books on October 2, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.
Hillary Clinton greets fans and signs copies of her book \"Hard Choices\" at Books and Books on October 2, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.

PHILADELPHIA -- Hillary Clinton earned a hometown welcome here Thursday night while campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and testing out what felt like the makings of presidential stump speech.

“She is a Pennsylvanian at heart,” Wolf said while introducing Clinton at “Women for Wolf” fundraiser at the Constitution Center downtown. “Coursing through her veins is blood that is infused with Pennsylvania values … She’s one of us.”

The former secretary of state had laid claim to many hometowns over the years. She was born and raised outside Chicago, attended college near Boston, and lived for many years in Little Rock, Arkansas where her husband, former President Bill Clinton, served as governor. She now has homes in Washington and in Chappaqua, New York, a state she represented in the Senate for 8 years. But she has often mentioned her attachment to Pennsylvania as well, noting her grandfather's roots in blue-collar Scranton. 

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When Clinton took the stage, she reminisced about her family’s annual road trips through the Pennsylvania countryside. “There’s a lot of Philadelphia and a lot of Pennsylvania in Charlotte,” she said of her new granddaughter. “Her father has already held her while watching the Eagles play.”

Clinton’s son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, is the daughter of Marjorie Margolies, a former congresswoman from the city. Margolies, whom Clinton campaigned for this year during an unsuccessful attempt to regain her seat in Congress, greeted local Democratic dignitaries ahead of the speech, brining some to visit with Clinton.

“This state has been very good to my family and to my husband and to me,” Clinton added. She carried the state during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Alan Kessler, Clinton’s 2008 national finance chair and a major Democratic donor from the area, said he was pleased to see Clinton here again. “Eight years ago, in a very difficult time, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia came through with a 10 point win in the primary, so I think Philadelphia and Pennsylvania is ready for Hillary,” Kessler told msnbc. Was he here for Wolf or Clinton? “Both,” he replied.

In her speech, Clinton adroitly walked the line between both being a good Democrat stumping for a fellow partisan and laying out her own vision – even if there were jokes about her preeminence. “Listen, I’m the one running for governor!” Wolf joked when Clinton accidentally came on stage prematurely and sent up a cheer from the crowd, which was estimated to be about 1,000 strong.

Clinton began by thanking local Democratic leaders. She paid a lengthy tribute to former Gov. Ed Rendell and Rep. Allison Schwartz, who lost a gubernatorial primary campaign to Wolf, but has since become his loyal supporter.

In his own speech, Rendell joked that he was confident Wolf would be “the second best governor in Pennsylvania history!”

Of Sen. Bob Casey, who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and has yet to sign on the Ready for Hillary effort, Clinton said he was “another great Democratic leader.”

After posing with Wolf, Clinton launched into a lengthy story of his biography, calling him the kind of “made-in-America success story that made this country great.” She explained how he started as a forklift driver and eventually ran his own company, which faltered during the recession, forcing him to invest his “every penny” to rescue it.

“For Tom Wolf, that business was about a lot more than the Wolf family. For him, everyone that worked there was part of the family,” she said.

Wolf’s values, she continued, building to a portion of the speech that would sound as good in Iowa or New Hampshire as they did here, are “the way things are supposed to work in America.” 

She laid out many components any speechwriter would be happy to use in a presidential campaign speech, embedded with responses to likely criticisms.

A reason to run: She gave forceful articulation of what she called the “building blocks of the Democratic Party,” saying that her party are the ones who look out for working people and families.

“We believe everyone deserves not just a chance, but a second chance, or even a third chance for a better life,” she continued, while discussing her party’s values.

“They’re the same value that I was raised with,” she noted.

Women: She talked at length about the need for equality, both on economic issues and in heath care, pillorying Corbett, though not by name, for his support for invasive ultrasound law.

Her privilege: Clinton has stumbled in discussing her wealth this year, but found her footing tonight, with an assist from her granddaughter. “You should not have to be the grandchild of a president to get a good education, to get good healthcare,” she said. Let’s make sure we give every child in Pennsylvania the same chance that I’m determined to give my granddaughter.”

Clinton kept the spotlight on Wolf and this year’s midterm election, even while but has begun in recent speeches to make cryptic references to a coming “movement.”

“You feel there is a movement stirring across this county, you can see it from coast to coast,” she told the audience while exhorting them to get Democrats to the polls next month. “But none of it will matter if people don’t vote.”

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Wolf has a strong lead in every poll over incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who was elected in the 2010 tea party wave, but has suffered from deep unpopularity since.

It was Clinton’s first public fundraiser of the year, aside from an event in Iowa to honor retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and boost other Democrats running in the state. Next week, she’s scheduled to appear at a second public event in Michigan for Rep. Gary Peters, who is running for Senate. Peter’s also has a large lead. Clinton's events for other Democrats in tighter races have so far been limited to private fundraisers.