For Chelsea, Silence Is Golden

Jan 14, 2008 5:38pm

ABC’s Kate Snow reports:  For weeks now, Chelsea Clinton has been seen but not heard.

Taking time off from a fast-paced job with a New York hedge fund, the younger Clinton has been tagging along with her mother and father — standing on stages, smiling broadly, greeting voters.  But rarely does she ever say much more than a quick “I hope you’ll support my mom” to the voters whose hands she eagerly shakes.  And she never — never ever — speaks to the press.

When this reporter asked just after the holidays a benign “How was your Christmas Chelsea?” not once but twice, she smiled politely and ignored the question.

“She doesn’t take questions,” said the aide at her side.

In Iowa, a US Congressman was enlisted to stand by Chelsea’s side (“on Chelsea duty”) and make sure no one harassed the former first daughter.

And there was the famous encounter with an intrepid reporter from the Scholastic News in Des Moines.  Nine year old Sydney Rieckhoff was snubbed when she tried to ask Chelsea what she thought her dad would be like as a first spouse.  (She later asked the President himself and he answered the question.)

Chelsea, by all accounts, is an enormously private person.  She prefers to avoid political fights, publicity and all the tabloid attention that can inevitably follow.

Insiders in Camp Clinton say it is her choice, in consultation with her mother, to remain quietly on the sidelines.

But as the race intensifies, is Chelsea slowly coming out of her shell?

On Sunday, according to The Stanford Daily newspaper, Chelsea Clinton stood before an audience of more than 100 young women and fielded questions — on everything from healthcare to Iraq and Darfur.

And she wasn’t afraid to get specific.  Speaking about healthcare, the junior Clinton offered a well-rehearsed explanation of her mother’s plan.

“[My mother] and Senator Edwards are committed to universal healthcare,” the Stanford Daily reported she said. “Senator Obama is committed to what we call ‘virtual’ universal healthcare which would make it an option for people to buy into the system. What my mother argues is that if you don’t mandate that everyone have healthcare, the healthy people may not buy into the system, which means that the average cost of insuring people is a lot higher.”

Clinton urged students to vote in California’s upcoming February 5 primary and reminisced about her days as a Stanford student.

“I’m overcome by nostalgia,” Clinton reportedly said.

Sitting around on the floor of the Pi Beta Phi sorority lounge, the setting was comfortable.  There were no members of the national press present.  The campus did not advertise that Chelsea would be coming, though the event was publicized to five sororities.

According to the Stanford Daily, Clinton said: “We are just trying to make my mom’s campaign more accessible to people,” she said. “We want to make sure that young people feel like the campaign is talking about issues that you care about and is delivering its plans and ideas in a way that resonates with you.”

Today in Nevada, Chelsea surprised another group of students, showing up with her father for an event at Green Valley High School in Henderson, NV

Chelsea did not speak, but President Clinton offered her up if anyone had questions specifically for her.  When a student standing behind the President nearly fainted, Chelsea helped the girl off stage.

Slowly, tenatively, and without fanfare Chelsea Clinton has been getting her feet wet.

On the day before the New Hampshire primary last week, Chelsea worked the phones for her mother. 

In one phone call, she took several minutes to expound on her mothers position on Iraq.

“I can certainly tell you what she has said about Iraq,” Chelsea Clinton said.

Here’s how another call went:  “Oh, Louis, hi this is Chelsea Clinton calling. I was calling to talk to you about voting for my mother tomorrow. This is really Chelsea. Have you made a decision yet? It’s very hard. Do you have any questions?”

Voters are constantly gushing about how pretty and poised Chelsea is.  They call her “impressive”, “beautiful”, “smart”.            

Chelsea called out a car window to one young man, “Are you voting for my mom?” He answered a bit surprised, “I will now!”

“She is so cute!” said one Clinton campaign volunteer in New Hampshire. “It is fabulous seeing what a nice kids she is. They’ve done a fabulous job raising her even around all the politics. It says loads about Hillary.”

Will Chelsea’s efforts make any difference with younger voters?  Who knows.  But the campaign clearly figures it can’t hurt.

The rest of Chelsea’s events on Monday are “closed” to the press.  We’re told she’ll meet with high school voters and make some “retail stops”.  She will also stop by a campaign headquarters.  Perhaps some Nevada voters will be getting interesting phone calls tonight.

“Yes it’s really Chelsea.”

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