Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton went to Iowa for the first time since she lost the caucuses there in 2008. If her remarks there are any indication, she’s planning to campaignÂÂ for president in 2016 on two themes: the war on women and middle-class economic struggles.
Not everyone understands what she’s up to. The Washington Post, for instance, says that Clinton used her speech “to address growing concerns in her party about income inequality.” The story then quotes her: “American families are working harder than ever, but maintaining a middle-class life feels like pushing a boulder uphill every single day.”
That remark isn’t about inequality, however. Clinton is actually following President Barack Obama’s example of moving away from the discussion about income disparities.
It’s a smart move, because inequality is a low-priority issue for voters. As William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, pointed out last week, voters are more concerned about economic growth and middle-class opportunity than they are about narrowing the gap between rich and poor. In other words, most Americans aren’t that concerned with the ratio between their income and that of hedge-fund managers. They just want that numerator to rise.
Clinton also talked about raising the minimum wage and ensuring equal pay for women. Those policies would reduce inequality, but that isn’t their principal selling point. And they wouldn’t do anything to reduce the incomes of the highest-earning 1 percent.
Clinton’s emphasis also makes sense given her political history. Inequality was rising when her husband was in the White House, but the public didn’t mind because the country was enjoying broad-based prosperity.
Iowa isn’t just a key presidential-primary state. It’s also ground zero for the midterm elections: The governor is on the ballot, a Senate seat is up for grabs and several House races are competitive. The message Clinton is using here, which presents Republicans as out of touch with the economic concerns of middle-class voters, could turn out to be formidable.
“Hello, Iowa. I’m baaack” is how she began her remarks. For Republicans, it sounds a bit like a horror film.
[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]