A Newly Confident Clinton Focuses More on Economy Than on Obama

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008

COMPTON, Calif., Jan. 17 -- Ten days after she choked up while answering a question from a New Hampshire voter, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the pulpit at Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church here on Thursday to cite a Bible verse in support of her main argument against Sen. Barack Obama.

"As the Scripture reminds us, we cannot be just hearers to the word, we must be doers," she declared. The mostly African American congregation applauded and murmured in agreement.

Abandoning the defensive crouch she assumed in the days before rebounding from her defeat in the Iowa caucuses with a victory in the New Hampshire primary, Clinton has resumed her role as the forceful aggressor in the Democratic presidential race, showing few signs of vulnerability, and playing down her emotions in favor of a heavy emphasis on policy details.

In swings across Nevada and California over the past few days, the senator from New York has returned to one of her favorite subjects -- the economy -- while her advisers have been mounting a fierce behind-the-scenes effort to undercut Obama and lower expectations for Clinton. She did rounds of interviews about the economy, took questions from pastors, traveled to the San Fernando Valley to meet college students and took questions again from voters, concentrating on California, the biggest prize of Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, even as the Nevada caucuses loom this weekend.

In some ways, Clinton has returned to her pre-Iowa days. Though quoting the Bible Thursday, she also drifted back toward specific (and notably liberal-sounding) promises: payments of $650 per person to help people, especially seniors on fixed incomes, pay utility bills; mandatory preschool; a $30 billion fund to help communities cope with the mortgage crisis; a $200 million program over five years to help communities transition ex-convicts back into society.

"I believe strongly that when someone has served his or her time, her debt or his debt to society, then they ought to have the slate wiped clean," Clinton said. "They ought to be able to vote; they ought to be able to have a job. And I've been around long enough to know that you don't make things disappear by just talking about it -- you've got to have action."

Clinton acknowledged that she is amid a fierce fight for the Democratic nomination, but did not mention her chief rival by name. In her stump speech, she has mostly scaled back her more explicit contrasts with Obama. The references to having the "strength and experience" to be president "on Day One" have largely given way this week to remarks about people's economic worries, and her speeches have been filled with anecdotes she has heard from voters on the campaign trail. The word "change" has been replaced by far greater emphasis on the "middle class."

"There is a lot of questioning going on: "Why isn't it working for hardworking middle-class Americans?' " she said to a large crowd of students during a stop at California State University at Northridge late Thursday.

Even in her morning church visit, Clinton talked about racial equality in economic terms. "So many heroic people, following the example that Dr. King set of nonviolent resistance, changed our country and changed our world, but let us also remember that when Dr. King was taken from us too soon, he was marching for economic justice," she said. "And there still is a long way to go today, particularly when it comes to voting rights and job discrimination."

In shifting into a full-throttle emphasis on the economy, Clinton is once again following in her husband's steps. She has not used the phrase "It's the economy, stupid," which defined Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992, but her approach is strikingly similar. She encourages voters to consider their own interests as they think about how to vote, and offers examples of how her proposals will help them.

She is noticeably cool about one theme from her husband's campaigns -- hope -- because it is now more associated with Obama.

"We're supposed to all go up together, and I pledge to you that I will do everything in my power as a senator, as a president to make sure that we do deliver on the dream that all of us know should be a reality," she said, "and not just a hope."

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