Hillary, We Thoroughly Knew Ye

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

DES MOINES It was very nearly a case of Too Much Information.

Sen. Hillary Clinton was campaigning in a Hy-Vee grocery here Tuesday, on day two of her effort to display warmth and fuzziness, when she divulged some startling news: She was dispatching across Iowa "people who have known me, who can talk about what I do when the lights are off."

As luck would have it, Bill Clinton was campaigning with his wife in the Hy-Vee, and he was asked what he and the senator do in their, um, downtime.

"Sometimes we're just sleeping," the former president answered, "because we're so tired."

Those crazy kids. But then, the effort to humanize Hillary was bound to encounter some hitches.

As Clinton struggles to recover in Iowa and New Hampshire, her aides are trying a last-minute fix for a potentially fatal flaw: Voters like her brains and her experience, but they don't necessarily like, well, her. And so the campaign rolled out (what else?) a new slogan -- "The Hillary I Know" -- and a new Web site with 38 videotaped testimonials from the senator's friends and constituents.

But the get-to-know-me campaign has hit a snag: Hillary. "I know that people have been saying, 'Well, we got to know more about her. We want to know more about her personally.' I totally get that," Clinton acknowledged at the Hy-Vee. "It's a little hard for me. It's not easy for me to talk about myself."

Just how hard became clear at her next stop, in Ottumwa. Early in her speech, she tried gamely to speak in the first person. "I was raised in a middle-class family," she said in a soft voice. "My father, who was a World War II Navy vet, came home from serving our country and wanted to start a family and start a small business and save enough money to buy a house."

But after a minute of this, Clinton retreated to what for her is safer ground: the impersonal world of policy.

"I figure that we can provide 50,000 Iowa families with at least $300 in additional emergency heating assistance, and I can help 80,000 Iowa families reduce their energy bills by up to 20 percent through immediate weatherization plans," she vowed. Silence in the room.

"My plan would provide 930,000 Iowa households with new matching tax cuts to save," she read from a sheet of paper. "I would also provide 774,000 Iowa workers who currently have no employer-sponsored retirement accounts an opportunity to save in your own retirement account." Crowd noise at pin-drop decibels.

The appearance ended after a similarly informative discussion about health care, alternative energy, immigration and veterans' programs. And at the end, The Hillary We Know was still enigmatic.

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