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Clarification to This Article
This headline was updated from an earlier version. A June 3 article on Page 1 about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton misidentified the person who made the film "The Man from Hope," a biography of Bill Clinton that was shown at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Its producer was Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and its the director was Jeffrey Tuchman.

Clinton Accents Her Midwestern Roots

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been discussing her mother, Dorothy Rodham, above, at presidential campaign stops.
Sen. Hillary Clinton has been discussing her mother, Dorothy Rodham, above, at presidential campaign stops. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 3, 2007

For years, when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton talked about her family, it was usually her famous husband or their well-known daughter. But Clinton has recently been discussing a more elusive figure in her life: her mother.

"She didn't have a very easy time of it as a young child," Clinton (D-N.Y.) said during an address to Democratic Party activists in California, describing the journey Dorothy Howell Rodham made in search of a home after her teenage parents divorced in 1920 and sent her away.

Drawing attention to her low-profile mother -- who is in her late 80s and lives with the Clintons on Whitehaven Street in Washington -- is one of several ways Clinton is seeking to give voters a new perspective on her biography. Armed with extensive polling data and an image road map tested in Upstate New York, the Clinton campaign has embarked on an ambitious effort to present the candidate the way they want her to be seen: as a pragmatic Midwesterner with a compelling life story of her own, rather than just the famous, and sometimes polarizing, senator and former first lady most of the country already knows she is.

Clinton tells crowds at the opening of virtually every speech that she was "born into a middle-class family in the middle of America, in the middle of the last century." One of the least-known facts about her, according to campaign operatives, is that she is a native of suburban Chicago, not Arkansas or New York.

Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications director, said the senator is responding to the fact that voters "understandably want to know biographical information about people running for president."

"People have a sense of Senator Clinton in the Senate; they obviously have a sense of her as first lady," Wolfson said. "But most people do not know what she did before coming to Washington. We found that in New York: We ran ads in 1999 and 2000 about the work she had done prior to becoming first lady."

Now, Wolfson said, "There are people who say they know everything about Hillary Clinton, and then you ask where she was born, and they have no idea."

The challenge is more than just getting voters to connect to Clinton: She has extremely high negative ratings to try to counteract.

Introducing biographical information about her childhood and early adulthood, her advisers hope, will flesh out the familiar caricature of Clinton as an overly ambitious careerist who leaves scandal in her wake. After 15 years in Washington, she is also seen as an inside-the-Beltway figure; underscoring her Midwestern upbringing is, they believe, one way to shift that view (while also, not coincidentally, appealing to voters in Midwestern swing states such as Ohio).

"There are a lot things about Hillary you may not know that occurred in her life before she ever became a United States senator," former president Bill Clinton intones in a biographical video on his wife's campaign Web site. The segment goes on to show a montage of early photographs as Clinton describes his wife working for poor defendants while studying at Yale Law School, turning down lucrative job offers to work at the Children's Defense Fund and chairing the national board of the Legal Services Corporation when she was 29 years old.

"When I saw that video on the Web site, I thought, 'This is "The Man from Hope" all over again,' " Democratic consultant Peter Fenn said.

"The Man from Hope," of course, was the moniker Bill Clinton assumed in 1992 and the title of his biographical film at the Democratic convention that year, when he relaunched himself as an up-by-the-bootstraps populist from Hope, Ark., rather than the silver-tongued governor his rivals were portraying.


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