On the Stump, Clinton's Is a Well-Oiled Machine

But Can She Carry It to Wider Audience?

By Published on .

SOMERSWORTH, N.H. (AdAge.com) -- Ah the benefits of having a White House background and previous experience on the primary trail.

It's the little things you notice first, and they begin happening well before New York Sen. Hillary Clinton actually enters the room.

At most candidate events in New Hampshire, voters mill about talking to one another, show few signs of outright excitement. At a Clinton event, though, voters are greeted with boisterous rock music to further rev up their spirits and potentially heighten their excitement at being around the candidate. The music kicks in again immediately after Ms. Clinton finishes speaking.

There's also the presence of a sign-language translator. They aren't seen at other candidate events, perhaps because of the expense involved, perhaps because there are unlikely to be many hearing-impaired people in event crowds of 400 to 1,000 people. On the other hand, the presence of a translator could send the crowd an unspoken message of compassion and caring.

Finally, there is the candidate herself. After eight years in the White House and a number in the Senate, she's got the stump show down to a science.

Many of the other candidates do too, but switching back and forth between serious issues and light hearted banter, Clinton quickly presents an image of personal warmth that is a marked contrast from the far harsher one the media offered during past fights over health care and the political fights in her husband's administration.

Example Numero Uno was Thursday's highlight here at a community center, when she was questioned by four young women dressed in green uniforms.

"Were you a Girl Scout," they asked simply.

Ms. Clinton not only replied, "Yes," but proceeded to cite the words of a Girl Scout song, as the girls joined in, "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other's gold." Ms. Clinton said she thinks of the song occasionally in revisiting New Hampshire and seeing people she had first met in years of campaigning for her husband in the state.

Example No. 2: At a forum on energy with former "This Old House" guru Bob Villa, Ms. Clinton is hoarse and losing her voice. "I sound like Tallulah Bankhead!" she said.

The humor comes through too in the give-and-take of question and answer sessions But it's there, too, where the other side -- that aggressive side that some Democrats might deem necessary in taking back the White House -- comes out in brilliant flashes as she goes on the attack: "George Bush's policies have alienated our friends and emboldened our enemies," she says in only slight variations at every event. "The United States will stand by the values that have stood the test of time." She suggests President Bush is engaging in a war on science, and promises to restore America's traditional use of diplomacy rather than war to tackle issues and on Thursday was also outspoken on problems of the dollar and oil prices, energy issues and Iraq.

If it's not exactly a tour de force, it's pretty darn close to perfect. Perhaps Jennifer MacDonald's presence here is the ultimate test. She's in Somersworth listening and trying to decide between candidates. The other candidate? Sen. John McCain, a Republican.

The biggest question for the Clinton campaign could well be whether it can adequately convey this side of the New York senator to get to independent voters nationally conditioned by years of negative media stories to consider their candidate.
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