Preparing for campaign, Clinton seizes on bipartisanship
Feb. 26, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Not yet officially a candidate for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton is already trying to seize the mantle of problem-solver in a nation fed up with dysfunctional government. Republicans are ready to remind Clinton — and voters — of her history as a polarizing figure in U.S. politics.
In her first speech in the U.S. this year, the former secretary of state signaled a desire to focus on bridging the partisan divide. Or, as Clinton put it, bringing people from "right and left, red, blue, get them into a nice, warm, purple space."
It's not a new message. President Barack Obama based his 2008 campaign in part on overcoming the old Washington ways of doing business. He, too, often spoke of getting past talk of an America divided between "red" conservative states and "blue" liberal ones. That lofty rhetoric has given way during Obama's term to bitter battles with Congressional Republicans who have thwarted many of the president's domestic policy goals.
Clinton's approach speaks to the state of the nascent Democratic primary campaign. Polls show her as a dominant front-runner and the field of potential challenges has shown little signs of electrifying Democrats the way Obama did in 2008 when he beat Clinton for the party's nomination. In contrast, the Republicans have a crowded field of prospective candidates, with no clear favorite.
The bipartisan rhetoric coming from Clinton stands out given the former first lady's own heated past with the Republican Party.
"My first response is, 'Who are you and what have you done with Hillary Clinton?'" quipped Republican strategist Rich Galen, who advised former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican who was a frequent antagonist of President Bill Clinton.
For Hillary Clinton, making the case she could succeed at brokering a lasting peace in Washington will require resolving memories of her divisive — and unsuccessful — battle to reform the nation's health care system as first lady, and her complaint in 1998 of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to get her husband from the beginning of his presidential bid. That comment came in the midst of the scandal over her husband's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Yet there is undoubtedly an appetite among voters, reflected in polling, for a greater focus on cooperation. Clinton sought Tuesday to reach that audience, punctuating her remarks at a conference in Silicon Valley with anecdotes of bipartisan cooperation.
When technology publisher Kara Swisher asked Clinton in an interview on stage her one wish if she could wave a magic wand, Clinton said, "If we could get back to working together cooperatively again, that we could get out of our mindsets, our partisan bunkers."
Asked if she was now "less polarizing," Clinton said she had learned from her experiences in Arkansas — where her husband was governor — at the White House and while serving in the Senate. "I don't think I have all the right ideas. I don't think my party has all the right ideas," she said.
Democrats say the bipartisan push is at the core of Clinton's beliefs, recalling her across-the-aisle work during her time in the Senate with top Republicans. Her tenure at the State Department only reaffirmed those beliefs, they say, as she was frequently asked by puzzled diplomats in foreign capitals to explain Washington dysfunction.
"What I heard her say is, 'I don't have all the answers, but I'm willing to take on the problems,'" said Karen Skelton, a California-based Democratic strategist who was at the speech. Skelton, a political adviser in Bill Clinton's White House, said that at this stage of Hillary Clinton's career, "she's not afraid of anything."
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