Chelsea Clinton: Private Person, Public Campaign

Keeping distance from press, former first daughter edges back into spotlight.

Jan. 18, 2008 — -- Chelsea Clinton is arguably the most recognizable political offspring since John F. Kennedy Jr. The only daughter of the nation's last Democratic president, now her mother is interviewing for Dad's old job.

For weeks, the 27-year-old hedge fund manager in New York, comfortably distanced from the White House and spotlight that accompanied her adolescence, was seen but not heard on the campaign trail.

But as the race between Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and her chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., heats up, the former first daughter is coming out of her shell, stepping cautiously back into the bubble.

Chelsea on the Road

At first, she stood silent on stages, smiling broadly and greeting voters. But rarely did she offer more than a brief, "I hope you'll support my mom." And she never, ever, spoke to the press.

But she is beginning to allow a glimpse of her life on the road.

ABC News' cameras were allowed to follow Clinton as she campaigned in Nevada, joined in a nondescript minivan by Amber Tamblyn, star of "Joan of Arcadia," and America Ferrera, better known as the title character in ABC's "Ugly Betty."

The famous trio's hectic day began with a rally, and her father, former President Clinton, and retired NBA basketball Magic Johnson, were along for the ride. Then came a walk through the packed hallways of Caesar's Palace to meet everyone from blackjack dealers to kitchen workers.

By late afternoon, Clinton was greeting volunteers at her mother's Las Vegas headquarters. "I'll sleep on Feb. 6," she shouted as she left.

Next stop: the student union at the University of Las Vegas. Ferrera called it a "sneak attack" on the students of UNLV.

For weeks now, Clinton has been doing these kind of stealth campaign stops with no advance warning and no cameras supporting her mother's campaign.

"Do you have any questions about my mom's campaign?" she asks. The crowd asks a host of questions on everything from student loans to gay marriage and variety of detailed answers follow.

At the day's first event — the rally with her father and Magic — the former president encouraged members of the crowd to ask questions of his daughter.

Rarely, with the opportunity to press the former president, do audience members take him up on the offer. But this time, someone did.

A teacher asked about the importance of getting youth involved in the election to which Clinton replied, "One of the clear messages in this election so far is that young people are motivated to pay attention and hopefully motivated to participate. And I just hope that we prove what they're saying about us true. I hope that we get online, and get informed, and show up."

Nothing earth shattering to be sure but it's a stark contrast to her attitude toward the press. She doesn't like cameras much. Although ABC News tagged along, we were allowed no questions.

The Private Clinton

People close to the former first daughter say it's her decision, in consultation with her mother, to remain at a safe distance from the press.

In Iowa, a congressman was enlisted to stand by her side "on Chelsea duty."

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 Clinton what she thought her father would be like as a first spouse. (She later asked the former president and he answered the question.)

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

She is, after all, the only person in history who could become a first daughter twice.

But for now she sips iced coffee to keep up a crazy pace and tries to keep it all in perspective.

"It was really cute today," Tamblyn told ABC News. "We went to this rally where President Bill Clinton was speaking. … [Chelsea] was like 'Dad, Dad, don't forget about … ' and she would like add something. And it was really cute [to] watch their dynamic."