Hillary Clinton Develops a Strategy That Plays to Her Strengths

Dan Merica

writes about Hillary Clinton’s latest strategy.

Clinton headlined a series of conversations in Virginia and Kentucky this week with a focus on kitchen table issues like backing universal pre-kindergarten, rolling out a plan for affordable childcare and touting her position on equal pay for women.

The Clinton campaign hopes targeting suburban voters with small, tailored events, which harken back to small events and roundtables the candidate did when she kicked off her campaign in early 2015, will contrast well with Trump, who is more comfortable pumping up crowds. Her target: suburban women voters, a critical bloc for the former secretary of state. It’s a group that tilted towards Mitt Romney in 2012 and who polls show are not excited about Clinton’s candidacy.

The idea is to target suburban women voters who may not be as impressed with Trump as they were with Romney. But wait a minute…a couple of weeks ago, this is what Salena Zito reported about Clinton’s strategy in Pennsylvania.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stopped briefly in Pittsburgh Friday, chatting with patrons at a staple venue for any candidate who wants win over Western Pennsylvania voters: Primanti Brothers.

Clinton’s arrival surprised some in the late afternoon lunch crowd at the Downtown outlet of the franchise that began in 1933 as a sandwich cart catering to truckers who unloaded produce delivered from the railroad yards to the Strip District warehouses.

After handshakes and selfies with patrons at the bar and in the lunch booths, Clinton ordered a classic capicola sandwich and a side of tater tots smothered in parmesan cheese and horseradish sauce and joined six members of the SEIU union from Pittsburgh at an outside table…

“We discussed a wide range of issues around the labor movement, in particular the importance of spreading sign-ups of new members from different types of work forces to strengthen our power,” said Paul Griffin, 61 of McKeesport.

Obviously, Clinton’s strategy in Pennsylvania was to target members of organized labor. But if we go back to the New York primary, we see things like this:

On Monday, as the former president spoke at a event for seniors in the Bronx, Hillary Clinton campaigned on gun violence prevention on Long Island. For most of the somber hour, family members of gun violence victims relayed their harrowing stories. One previously undecided mother who lost her son to a shooting announced her support for Clinton.

From New York to Pennsylvania to Kentucky, we’ve seen Clinton tackle everything from gun violence to labor issues to pre-k/childcare. But her consistent strategy is to target the issues that are of most concern to voters in the context of smaller, more intimate gatherings. Of course, this is in direct contrast to the strategy of her eventual competitor in the November election. I’d like to suggest several reasons why this is a good plan for Clinton.

1. It plays to her strengths. Let’s face it, Clinton is a wonk more than a visionary. She’s never been particularly gifted at giving rousing speeches to big crowds. But in a small conversational gathering, she can show both the depth of her compassion as well as knowledge.

2. It gets good local air time. While we don’t hear much about these events in the national news, you can bet that when Hillary has lunch at Primanti Brothers, the local news organizations in Pittsburgh cover it – big time.

3. It allows Clinton to cover a wide array of issues. We’ve all seen how Sanders – at his big rallies – basically gives the same stump speech over and over. These smaller gatherings allow Hillary to zero in on the variety of issues that are important to the voters she is targeting.

4. It substitutes connection for inspiration. One of the challenges Hillary faces is that – as a wonk who believes in incremental change – she has a problem inspiring voters with lofty rhetoric. Intimate gatherings give her the opportunity to make an emotional connection with voters that might otherwise be lacking.

5. It paves the way for accountability. The lofty rhetoric of inspirational speeches can sometimes lead to disappointment among voters if politicians aren’t able to fulfill their promises. Conversational gatherings allow Hillary to go into more depth about the challenges we face and avoid making sweeping promises she won’t be able to keep.

We all watched Al Gore in the 2000 election attempt to wriggle himself in to being the kind of candidate his advisors thought he should be. It never works. While being authentic and playing to your strengths sometimes means going off the beaten path and exposing your weaknesses, it is the only choice that offers the possibility of success.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .