GREENSBORO, N.C. — Hillary Clinton returned to the campaign trail on Thursday after three days of rest recommended by her doctor, giving an address on improving the welfare of children and families that is part of an effort by the Democratic candidate to refocus the presidential race on her credentials.
“I have to say, it’s great to be back on the campaign trail,” Clinton said, after coming out to James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
“I recently had a cold that turned out to be pneumonia. I tried to power through it, but even I had to admit that maybe a few days’ rest would be good,” she added. “I’m not great at taking it easy even under normal circumstances, but with just two months to go until Election Day, sitting at home was just the last place I wanted to be.”
Clinton said that being off the trail gave her time to reflect on the core issues that brought her into public service in the first place. She noted that many families aren’t able to take paid time off in the event of sickness.
“Life events like these are catastrophic for some families, but mere bumps in the road for others,” Clinton said, speaking at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “I have met so many people living on a razor’s edge — one illness away from losing their job; one paycheck away from losing their home.”
“And that goes against everything we stand for as Americans,” she added.
Clinton’s speech is part of a larger effort to refocus the race on her credentials as well as to show voters a more human portrait of a candidate who can seem remote and programmed.
Younger voters, a problem for Clinton since the start of her campaign, are a particular target of the message now, less than two months from Election Day. Part of her outreach is an appeal to young people’s idealism and sense of civic engagement, which Clinton’s campaign hopes will translate to higher turnout than polls now suggest.
“I want to give Americans something to vote for, not just against,” Clinton later told reporters traveling with her. “We are offering ideas, not insults,” she said. “Plans that will make a difference in people’s lives.”
That strategy was interrupted by her illness, which became public when Clinton abruptly left a ceremony Sunday commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and was seen swaying and stumbling as she was helped into a van. Her campaign later said that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days earlier but had wanted to push ahead without changing her schedule.
Clinton made light of her reputation for secrecy, and by implication her decision not to reveal her pneumonia diagnosis immediately.
“I’ve been in politics for many years. It can be tough, and I’ve built up some defenses. When it comes to public service, I’m better at the service part than the public part.”
She later declined to directly answer whether she had immediately told her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), about her diagnosis.
At times, Clinton’s speech took on a conversational tone as she reflected on her personality quirks. But she suggested that those very traits make her more prepared than Donald Trump, her Republican opponent, to serve as president.
“Like a lot of women, I have a tendency to over-prepare. I sweat the details,” Clinton told the crowd.
“I’ll never be the showman my opponent is, and that’s okay with me,” Clinton said in what, for her, were markedly personal remarks.
A week ago, Clinton spoke in similarly personal terms about her religious faith in an address to black Baptists.
“People accuse me of all kinds of things, but nobody accuses me of quitting,” she said Thursday.
Clinton was greeted outside the rally by a potpourri of protesters — some wearing Trump T-shirts and carrying signs and others calling for the abolition of prisons. One man wore a shirt that read, “I am deplorable,” a reference to Clinton’s controversial comments last week that “half” of Trump’s supporters could fit in a “basket of deplorables.” She later apologized for saying that the number was “half,” but she did not back away from her characterization of Trump’s candidacy.
The candidate’s remarks in Greensboro were overshadowed somewhat by Trump’s release of medical information showing overall good health despite some excess weight and a cholesterol problem treated with drugs.
Clinton has found it challenging to break through the attention Trump draws as a celebrity candidate given to controversial statements, campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri said.
“Our campaign readily admits that running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard on what you aspire for the country’s future and it is incumbent on us to work harder to make sure voters hear that vision,” Palmieri said ahead of Clinton’s speech.
Thursday’s speech in an important swing state is the second of four planned before the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 that reframe Clinton’s policies and emphasize her biography in an attempt to change some of the political conversation.
It is Clinton’s first visit as a candidate to Greensboro, a city of persuadable swing and undecided voters who the campaign believes could be the most receptive to Clinton’s pitch.
“It’s an audience that’s not as familiar with not just her but being at the center of a presidential race in general,” Palmieri told reporters on the campaign plane on Thursday. The address “will focus on what has been at the core of who Hillary Clinton is as a person and the mission of her campaign — how we lift up our children and families and make sure that every child has the chance to live up to their God-given potential,” Palmieri said.
As she left the airport near her home in upstate New York, bound for North Carolina, Clinton greeted reporters with a cheery wave. “Welcome back to ‘Stronger Together!’ ” Clinton said with a broad smile. “I’m doing great, thank you very much.” She mentioned that some of her resting time involved catching up on some of her favorite television shows, including “The Good Wife” and “Madam Secretary.”
Earlier Thursday, Clinton steered wide discussing criticism leveled at her by former secretary of state Colin L. Powell in leaked emails published Wednesday.
Powell had written that Clinton spoils anything she touches with “hubris,” and complained that she was blaming him for setting a precedent of using a private email account while in government.
“I have a great deal of respect for Colin Powell, and I have a lot of sympathy for anyone whose emails become public,” Clinton said in a radio interview. “I’m not going to start discussing someone else’s private emails. I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about my own, as you know.”
She acknowledged the tightening race in swing states but said, as she did last week, that she always expected a close election. Clinton implored the predominantly African American listeners of the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” to vote, saying, “This is not one you can sit out.”
Gearan reported from Washington.