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Clinton Tests Out Populist Approach

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes a campaign stop at the Rhode Island College recreation center in Providence. The Democratic presidential hopeful is reaching out to working-class voters as the March 4 primary contests near.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes a campaign stop at the Rhode Island College recreation center in Providence. The Democratic presidential hopeful is reaching out to working-class voters as the March 4 primary contests near. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)

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"These are the voters who are up for grabs," said Doug Hattaway, a Clinton adviser.

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During the campaign, Clinton has often criticized trade agreements and the movement of jobs overseas. Over the weekend, she adopted a far more pointed tone and spent a lot of time emphasizing her populist message, reducing mentions of issues such as balancing the budget that have been standard in her speeches. She spent less time on the intricacies of her health-care plan and her proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq, heeding advice from aides who have urged her to speak in broader terms.

Clinton is seeking to get past the loss of 11 straight contests to Obama and to shore up the support of groups that have been key to her candidacy. In the states where she has performed strongly, Clinton has won among households with less than $50,000 in income, among people without college degrees and among families with at least one member in a labor union. But in last week's primary in Wisconsin, she lost all three groups.

White, working-class men, in particular, are a key voting bloc in a race where blacks have overwhelmingly supported Obama and white women have backed Clinton. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week showed Clinton leading overall in Ohio, where she led among white men, while the candidates were tied in Texas, where Obama had an advantage among white men.

James Rivard, a Cleveland technician who was polled and whose family makes less than $50,000, said he is leaning toward Obama but wants to hear more about the economy. "My income has been stagnant for like 12 years now, but my expenses have continued to go up, while all of this capital is leaving the country every year," he said.

Edwards's campaigns in 2004 and 2008 targeted working-class voters, and both Obama and Clinton have adopted some of his language about the plight of low-income voters as they seek to win over the group. In the weeks since Edwards dropped out of the race, Clinton and Obama have enthusiastically courted his endorsement and noted their support for reducing poverty, one of the key planks of his candidacy.

At a debate Thursday night in Austin, Clinton closed with a statement similar to one Edwards often used.

"Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. . . . I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about," she said.

At a Dec. 13 debate, Edwards said: "All of us are going to be just fine, no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine."


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