Clinton Embarks on Listening Tour 2.0

The Associated Press
Friday, February 23, 2007; 10:22 PM

SAN FRANCISCO -- An upbeat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton strode onstage Friday, leading the applause for herself and her supporters. She mocked her inability to sing and recalled her misjudgments on health care in her husband's first term.

This is Clinton in her favored political habitat, what her campaign calls the "conversation." It's a hybrid of President Clinton's freewheeling town halls, with a dash of President Bush's more tightly scripted forums.

Studiously spontaneous, it is engineered to showcase her as warm, funny, accessible _ and to shatter preconceived notions of the chilly, calculating former first lady.

"The goal of our campaign events is to let people get a firsthand look at Senator Clinton so they can draw their own impression of her," said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Call it Hillary's Listening Tour 2.0 _ an updated version of her tactics during the 2000 campaign for a New York Senate seat.

But this time, she's doing more talking than listening.

At a luncheon fundraiser and "conversation" here Friday, Clinton delivered a speech, mostly about Iraq, for 21 minutes, then took seven questions on topics ranging from education to housing to health care to voter disenfranchisement.

The questions appeared unscripted, and elicited lengthy answers from Clinton, though they broke little ground.

She noted affordable housing is "disappearing fast" in places like San Francisco, and pledged to hold the line against what she said were Bush's attempts to further cut government programs for it.

On abortion, Clinton said the Bush administration has "taken their political positioning much further that we've ever seen before," and added she is pressing for legislation stressing pregnancy prevention.

The appearance before donors ensured an audience of 900 that was almost exclusively supportive, and elicited a true softball question.

"I want to thank you for running," one man said. "I think you're the most courageous and brightest and have the most experience to lead our country." What about her experience at the White House, he wondered, "most influences you to be able to lead our country out of these bad times?"

Clinton acknowledged her failed attempt to pass sweeping health care reform early in her husband's first term, then launched into a long overview of her education while first lady on "what we can do and how fast we can do it and how we have to keep committed."

Unlike her husband, who famously strayed from his lectern to roam audiences like Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Clinton stays largely static. Like a hitter in the batter's box, she stands, hands clasped, pivoting only to take questions from audience members scattered throughout the hall.

Like her husband, however, she runs late _ 23 minutes on Friday.

And like Bush, the senator shook hands and took pictures with the biggest donors behind closed doors.

Most of Clinton's "conversations" have not been fundraisers. In Iowa and New Hampshire, anyone could get a ticket from a local campaign office or affiliated group, Singer said.

The attendees here donated from $250 up to the legal maximum of $4,600 to attend, and received box lunches for their checks.

Several protesters did manage to get in and briefly disrupted the event. Five were arrested and charged with disturbing a meeting.

© 2007 The Associated Press