Clinton Comes to Indiana in a Populist Package

The candidate presents herself as a working class hero -- so far, it's working.


May 5, 2008— -- Sen. Hillary Clinton is a multimillionaire who has graced the cover of Fortune magazine with the glitzy headline "Business Loves Hillary!"

The former first lady has accepted millions in campaign donations from Wall Street, and she has a solidly liberal voting record in the Senate.

But on the campaign trail these days, Clinton, D-N.Y., has repackaged herself as a working class hero, while branding Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. — who grew up working class with a single mother sometimes on food stamps — an elitist.

"There is a big difference between us and the question is this: Who will understand what you are going through, and who will stand up for you?" said the Wellesley and Yale Law School alumna, whose family reported more than $109 million in income since leaving the White House in 2001.

Many of the positions and rhetoric would have been unimaginable for Clinton right before the Iowa caucuses, when she worked to appease antiwar liberal Democrats.

But now she talks tough on Iran — threatening to "obliterate" the country if it attacks Israel with a nuclear weapon. The woman whose name the National Rifle Association says is synonymous with gun control, now attacks Obama in mailers, suggesting he is insufficiently supportive of gun rights.

Here in Indiana, this pitch seems to be working.

"Her work ethic and her working class roots really stuck to me," said Indianapolis Democratic voter Ken McGuffey. "Her determination to get where she wanted to get."

"Number one: She's brilliant," Pat McGuffey chimed in, in support.

It's a clear choice Clinton is laying out for voters on the trail: Wall Street vs. Main Street.

"Why don't we hold these Wall Street money brokers responsible for their role in the recession?" Clinton said Sunday in Indianapolis, before the state's primary on Tuesday.

Clinton campaign strategist Geoff Garin clarified on a conference call with reporters today, saying the Clinton campaign is glad to have the support of those on Wall Street who "probably share her value of shared prosperity."

The goal of this tactic is to win white, working class voters — the designated target of her not-so-secret weapon, former President Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton has become his wife's self-described "rural hit man," making himself at home among voters in hamlets and small towns across the country.

"All the people that aren't for Hillary, who think that, you know, we're a little too connected to folks like you, they have made merciless, unmerciful fun of me about this — 'Bill Clinton's out there in the country, exiled to the country,'" Clinton said Sunday in Lenoir, N.C. "I grew up in the country. I know where I am, and I wanna be right here."

On the day before voters go to the polls in Indiana and North Carolina, it was Bill Clinton, not his wife or Obama, who held the most events in towns, such as Louisburg, Roxboro and Henderson.

Sen. Clinton has picked up on the theme that worked so well in her Pennsylvania victory. She spoke today with a hint of a southern twang about the experiences she and Bill Clinton have had in North Carolina: "We have had the best time. We have eaten barbeque from one end of this state to the other."

But even as her husband has found a comfortable role on the campaign, the Clinton on the ballot has not been afraid to point out policy differences between them.

Sen. Clinton has distanced herself from trade deals her husband signed into law and she worked to pass.

Even the gas tax holiday she pushes stands in stark contrast to her husband's record. He raised gas taxes in 1993, and seemed to oppose a gas holiday in 2000, when he said he wasn't sure the savings would be passed to consumers, but Sen. Clinton insists she wants to give consumers a summer without them.

In South Bend, Ind., on Sunday, the candidate said, "I am unabashed. I am unapologetic. I am going to fight for the middle class and take on the oil companies.

"Sen. Obama wants you to pay the gas tax this summer," she told North Carolina voters today, insisting oil companies should "pay it out of their record profits."

And as the price of oil surged above $120 per barrel, the Clinton campaign released a new ad that declared starkly: "Barack Obama wants you to keep paying; $8 billion in all. Hillary is the one who gets it."

Policymakers and economists of all stripes think Clinton's gas tax proposal is a lousy idea that may not even save consumers money, but she remains undaunted.

"Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans," she said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," sounding not at all like someone who has summered in Martha's Vineyard.