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Clinton effort branches out with 3 generations

Times Staff Writer

Missing the star power of Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Rodham Clinton toured the state Saturday with her mother and daughter Chelsea in tow, in a series of low-key campaign events in which she dialed down attacks on her rivals.

Maybe it was the soothing presence of her family in the crowd, but Clinton, speaking in soft tones, repeatedly passed up opportunities to tar her opponents.

A man here who said he was inclined to support Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for president asked why she merited his vote. Rather than exploit a chance to deride Obama -- as she had been doing with more frequency -- Clinton said that all the Democratic candidates were capable.

“You don’t have to be against anybody,” the New York senator said. One thing voters should consider when making their choice, she said, is which of the candidates has the best chance to win.

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“I have been vetted for 15 years,” she said. “You know everything about me, probably, including my blood type. There aren’t going to be any surprises. I know what it takes to run against Republicans who are coming at you full-bore.”

Try as she might, Clinton found it difficult to overcome the reality that a certain supremely popular television celebrity was in the state, campaigning for one of her chief rivals.

Clinton held a brief news conference here that was dominated by questions about Winfrey’s joint appearance with Obama. She rejected Winfrey’s contention Saturday that life wisdom trumps government experience. “It’s a false choice to pose it that way to the American people,” Clinton said. “I offer both experience and change.”

With the media attention devoted to Winfrey, Clinton used the day to make a more personal, direct appeal to voters. Crowds at her early events numbered 100 to 150 people, but they grew a bit larger at the end of the day. The rally here was in an elementary school gym. About one-third of the space was empty, screened off by an enormous American flag.

Clinton set aside large blocks of time to take questions, shake hands, sign autographs and pose for photos, keeping her speeches short while engaging in a heavy dose of face-to-face campaigning.

She had breakfast at a restaurant in Des Moines, eating an omelet and toast after getting a tour of the delicatessen’s offerings. The Democratic front-runner paused mid-forkful to greet a young girl who came to her table to tell her about plans to see the Rockettes, who are performing in Des Moines.

The rare appearance by her mother, Dorothy Rodham, 88, and daughter Chelsea seemed aimed at humanizing Clinton, who has struggled during the campaign to overcome impressions that she is cool and unapproachable. In some polls, about half of the respondents have said they dislike Clinton.

Chelsea Clinton, 27, spoke to voters in Winterset about that issue. Toward the end of the campaign stop, she chatted briefly with a man and a woman in the crowd who said that conservatives have “programmed” voters to dislike her mother. The duo said her mother needs to devote time to dispelling those preconceptions.

“That’s why we’re here,” Chelsea Clinton said.

In Winterset, Clinton laid out a plan to help families overcome the cost of long-term elder care. She mentioned that her mother is living with her, a choice that some families can’t make for various reasons.

She offered a proposal to give a $3,000 tax credit to help offset the costs of caring for elderly family members.

Some in the audience said they liked what they heard. Two women in Winterset who had come out to see Clinton’s speech said they were on their way next to see the Obama-Winfrey appearance.

One, Susan Churchill, 40, of Norwalk, Iowa, said Obama would be hard-pressed to match the substance they heard from Clinton.

“I’ll be interested to see if he’ll have such an in-depth conversation, or will it be more for show to gather momentum for the campaign,” Churchill said.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com


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