WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the best-known figures in American politics, will seek to reintroduce herself to voters on Saturday by telling the story of her mother’s childhood struggles, pitching her 2016 presidential campaign as a fight on behalf of such everyday Americans.
In the first major speech of her bid for the Democratic nomination, Clinton plans to pay tribute to the hard work of Americans who she’ll argue helped the country emerge from the Great Recession, saying they deserve to be rewarded for their sacrifices.
“It is your time,” Clinton will say, according to aides who described the speech she’ll deliver from New York City’s Roosevelt Island.
While Republicans have already spent months seeking to make the 2016 election a referendum on Clinton, her speech aims to present the decision facing voters as more than just an assessment of her career as a former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state.
Instead, 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 three dollars 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, former president Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, at Saturday’s rally, marking the first time the family has been seen together in public since Clinton announced her intention to again run for the White House in early April.
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.