Hillary Clinton is putting everyday Americans at the center of her first major campaign speech for the Democratic presidential nomination as she connects the Depression-era struggles of her mother to the challenges facing those who helped the nation recover from the Great Recession.
"It is your time," Clinton will say while arguing that hard-working Americans deserve to be rewarded for their sacrifices, according to aides who described the speech she'll deliver Saturday during a rally at New York City's Roosevelt Island.
As Clinton reintroduces herself to voters, she can't claim a hardscrabble background of her own — she grew up comfortably in postwar Chicago suburbs and attended elite universities — and can't put herself in the same category as those hurt by the Great Recession. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have earned millions of dollars over the years, raising even more for their foundation, and live in a five-bedroom home in Westchester County.
Instead, Clinton's speech aims to present the decision facing voters as more than just an assessment of her career as a former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state. Her campaign wants to cast the race as a choice about the economic future of the middle class. Among her campaign aides, Clinton refers to the election as a "job interview" and the question before voters as a "hiring decision."
"We think the question is: Can I count on you to be that person who is going to fight for me?" said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign's communications director. The speech, Palmieri said, will showcase Clinton's differences with a large, and what she will describe as a monolithic, Republican presidential field.
Her remarks also represent an effort by her campaign to cast off the shadow of scandal that has dogged her over the past several months. Clinton has seen her personal approval ratings drop amid questions about her wealth, use of a private email account and server as secretary of state, and the financial dealings of her family charity.
"Hillary Clinton's latest campaign reset won't change a thing," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "She still refuses to answer the serious questions surrounding her finances, her family foundation, and her secret email server." The RNC is airing an ad in Washington and New York City starting Friday that criticizes Clinton's campaign rollout.
The emphasis on her late mother, Dorothy Rodham, is a change in course from Clinton's failed White House bid in 2008, when her campaign focused on her experience and toughness, presenting her as an American version of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Rodham died in 2011 after a life that has been described as Dickensian. Abandoned at a young age by her parents, she was sent as an 8-year-old with her 3-year-old sister on a four-day journey to live with strict, unloving grandparents in California. At the age of 14, she left their house to work for $3 per week as a mother's helper.
She eventually arrived in Chicago, where she married Hugh Rodham, a traveling salesman, and raised Clinton and her two brothers. In her nearly four decades of public life, Clinton has often cited her mother as an inspiration, recounting how she pushed her daughter to stand up for herself. One of her earliest memories, Clinton has said, is her mother telling her to challenge a neighborhood bully.
"I said, just go out there and show them you're not afraid," Rodham said in a rare 2004 interview with Oprah Winfrey. "And if she does hit you again, which she kept doing, hit her back."
While Rodham largely stayed out of the public eye, Clinton has long credited her mother with giving her a love of learning and a sense of compassion. "She has empathy for other people's unfortunate circumstances," Rodham said of her daughter in a 2007 campaign ad. "I've always admired that because that isn't always true of people."
Clinton will be joined by her husband and their daughter, Chelsea, at Saturday's rally, marking the first time the family has been seen together in public since Clinton announced in April her intention to again run for the White House.
After the speech, she'll embark on a tour of early-voting states, with events focused on her relationship with her mother, work as a young lawyer on behalf of poor children, and her father's background as a veteran and small businessman.
In the coming weeks, her campaign will begin rolling out specific policy initiatives on issues including college affordability, jobs and the economy. Those policies, campaign aides argue, will help build Democratic enthusiasm for her bid, despite the lack of a serious primary challenge.
"They're a great organizing tool," said Marlon Marshall, Clinton's head of early state strategy.