As she sought Monday to win over wary young voters in her pitch for the presidency, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton struck an unusually self-deprecating tone even as she tried to portray herself as a steady and seasoned stateswoman.
The balancing act underscored Clinton’s challenge in convincing voters who pulled Democratic in 2008 and 2012 to come out for her. One of these key populations are millennials, a term typically referring to people born in the 1980s and ‘90s — many too young to remember President Bill Clinton’s administration, or its controversies. Some recent polls indicate up to one-third of millennials plan to vote for a third-party candidate, and 57 percent of registered Democrats are less enthusiastic than usual about voting.
At a speech in Philadelphia, Clinton recalled her own coming of age during the Vietnam War, and said she herself lost faith in public officials to tell the truth and in the possibility of progress.
“You know, the next 50 days will shape the next 50 years,” Clinton said. “You want something to vote for, not just against.”
Taking a jab at her Republican opponent, real estate magnate Donald Trump, who prides himself on his unpredictability and having never served in public office, Clinton continued, “It’s wrong to put a loose cannon in charge who could start another war.”
Just hours after authorities arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, following weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey, Clinton told the crowd the case served as “a sobering reminder we need steady leadership in a dangerous world.”
A week ahead of the first presidential debate, as Trump pulls neck-and-neck with Clinton in nationwide polls and claws back in key battleground states, her campaign emphasized it will focus more on what Clinton offers than getting down into the mud with Trump.
Yet Clinton’s camp has received a steady trickle of bad polling news from swing states showing Democratic voter registration is lagging, and that she is underperforming with the coalition that helped launch President Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, including with Democratic-leaning minority groups.
The latest strategy shift to woo them isn’t without risk.
Clinton’s personal memory of mistrusting public officials also reminds voters of the skepticism that has dogged her campaign — from the Clinton Foundation’s connections to foreign donors, to her use of a personal email server as secretary of state.
Even her reference to Vietnam was a gamble: The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for at least half as long as most millennials have been alive. Clinton played significant roles in authorizing and carrying out policies for both of those wars, first as a New York senator and then Obama’s first secretary of state. That turned out to be a big vulnerability during her Democratic primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders, who successfully painted Clinton as too hawkish and trigger-happy.
Clinton was to meet later Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly with leaders from Egypt, Ukraine, and Japan. She sought to contrast that with Trump’s wrecking-ball diplomacy, though the reality TV host-turned-politician is also set to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“Even if you’re totally opposed to Donald Trump, you may still have some questions about me,” she told the Philadelphia crowd. Still, she said, “I don’t enjoy some of the things that come naturally to most politicians, like talking about myself.”
“I do spend a lot of time on on the details of policy,” Clinton said. “It should be a big deal for your president.”
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Staff