Facing Oprah and Obama, the O-O! whammy, Hillary Clinton brought her own powerhouses to Iowa yesterday, and I don't mean Bill and his charisma. She greeted crowds with her 88-year-old mother Dorothy Rodham and 27-year-old daughter Chelsea Clinton by her side. Multiple journalists, bloggers, and pundits conclude America's only female presidential candidate hoped to weaken "the Oprah effect", America's most powerful talk-show host and possible king-maker crowning Barack Obama as "the one*."
For instance, "The Caucus Blog" at The New York Times launches its post on Chelsea's appearance this way:
With Oprah Winfrey headed here on Saturday to campaign for Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton brought a surprise guest of her own: Chelsea Clinton. (The Caucus blog at NYT)
CNN's Political Ticker calls it Oprah vs. Chelsea." McClatchy's "Hot off the Trail" reports the story as Oprah v. Mom and Chelsea, and under the headline Hillary Clinton Hillary Tries to Counter Oprah, Fails, the writer at "You Decide 2008" opines that Hillary flanked by her mother and daughter can't top Oprah since Oprah's never shown up in Iowa before to support a candidate.
I suppose if you're writing a story about Hillary Clinton in Iowa and she shows up with the two women most important in her life, you might feel she did so in context of Oh-oh!, the Oprah and Obama hit team's gaining, and it's probably true that part of Hillary's motivation for having the two women join her is her drop in one poll plus Oprah's appeal. However, Clinton says her mother and daughter were always part of the plan:
"We had planned for my mother to campaign with me at some point and for Chelsea also. But we knew it would never happen before December because of all the conflicting schedule needs and everything everybody had. And it worked out that it was going to be today and I'm thrilled to have them with me. I've had a great time having my mother and my daughter with me and I hope I can persuade one or both of them to come back." ("Clinton on Celebrity Campaigners" at CBSnews.com)
It's frequently debated whether a candidate's family image matters, and certainly critics of family-toting candidates claim some candidates use their families as props. I've read at least one negative comment accusing Clinton of using her mother and daughter this way, but I say, "If she is, then so what."
We see see John Edwards trot out his family. Obama's done the same, and Republican candidates, Giuliani excluded perhaps, do it consistently. Presenting a family image to voters is a campaign standard.
Whether we buy the image presented probably depends on how we feel about the candidate already. If we feel the candidate's insincere and only showcasing the family to for the sake of a fake image, as did New Jersey's former governor Jim McGreevy (his former wife Dina doesn't believe he really ever loved the family), then we ignore the family's appearance. However, if we believe family has always been important to that candidate, we tend to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt and see family photo ops as a chance to gain more insight into how that candidate lives and loves.
Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that Clinton appearing with her mother and daughter related to winning women voters than to Hillary attempting to sculpt a stronger family image or to dull "the Oprah effect." She's got to beat this idea that women undermine her, something her campaign workers probably understand. She needs women to relate to her and see her as a friend, a capable leader, someone they'd be proud to call "the first female President of the United States."
Women have long been targeted by presidential candidates. Remember soccer moms from the 1996 election? But never before has there been a female candidate as formidable as Hillary Clinton, nor one whose sex alone is giving her an intriguing boost among women who see the historic appeal of electing the first female president. (quote from "Oprah in Iowa" at The San Jose Mercury News)
That said, I'm positive Hillary Clinton is an excellent strategist who knows timing is everything, and I think that if she did indeed believe her mother and Chelsea are the best she's got to combat the Oprah Effect and Obama, then she's telling us a lot about how she feels about her family. After all, it's not like Hillary doesn't have a blockbuster celebrity in her corner. Barbara Streisand's backing Clinton.
I think Hillary's campaign buddies are a sweet touch. Remember Elizabeth's Edwards' controversial comment about her husband not getting enough media attention:
"We can't make John black, we can't make him a woman," said Edwards, referring to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton during an interview with Ziff Davis Media about the Internet's role in the 2008 presidential election. (CNN)
Perhaps on the road to Iowa, Hillary threw up her hands and decided I'm no Oprah. But I am a woman, a daughter and a mom. That'll do fine.
*NOTE: Some people believe Oprah's reference to "the one" has to do with the movie The Matrix; however, she drew her analogy from The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in which Miss Pittman would examine new black babies and ask, "Are you the one?"
Photo Credits: Associated Press photo of Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea is from The Huffington Post story "Chelsea Clinton Stumps With Mom, As Oprah Hits The Trail With Obama". Barack Obama with wife Michelle and Oprah Winfrey from Huffington Post story, "Oprah's Obama Campaign Appearance Sells Out Auditorium, Moves To Football Field". Hillary Clinton three generations photo from Associated Press story at this link.
Nordette Adams is a Contributing Editor for Blogher.org
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