Why is Hillary Clinton running for president? She’ll answer that at a New York rally

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Houston last week. On Saturday, she'll deliver the first major address of her presidential campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Houston last week. On Saturday, she’ll deliver the first major address of her presidential campaign.

(Thomas Shea / Getty Images)

Hillary Rodham Clinton will forcefully lay out her motivation for running for president during a major rally in New York on Saturday, campaign officials say, drawing from her personal story to frame the theme of a White House run that some Democrats worry has lacked in inspiration.

In her formal announcement speech at Four Freedoms Park, on a small city island named after Franklin D. Roosevelt, Clinton will talk about how the tough childhood experiences of her mother drove her to enter public service. She will seek to dispel the notion that she is running because it is her turn to inherit the Democratic nomination and offer instead a personal, detailed biographical sketch that campaign advisors say will make a compelling case for why the White House is her calling.

The speech will be Clinton’s most expansive since she announced her candidacy in April, and it provides an opportunity to reboot a campaign that is way ahead in the polls but has yet to spark the kind of enthusiasm among the grass roots that twice carried Barack Obama to victory. Advisors have been working on the address for weeks. They are seeking to replicate for Clinton the kind of response Obama triggered with his 2007 kickoff address in Springfield, Ill., where he presented himself as an agent of change and hope.

“This is an important foundational moment for the campaign,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director. “If she wins, this is how she will govern. ... She has been working on this for a while.”


The absence of any formidable opponent has allowed Clinton to run a cautious campaign, sticking to boilerplate Democratic issues and mostly avoiding answering questions from the media. Campaign officials say her approach will change as she moves into this new phase of her run. The roundtables with handpicked audiences will soon be accompanied on the calendar by larger, unscripted events such as town halls and news conferences.

But like everything else in the Clinton campaign, Saturday’s speech will be carefully crafted. The setting is notable for its associations with Clinton’s own background. New York was where she launched her political career, serving the state as a U.S. senator. Roosevelt Island is, of course, named for the architect of the New Deal, and Clinton’s messaging – if not her actual policy proposals – borrows heavily from the time.

“She will talk about the principles behind FDR’s policies that continue to be true to the Democratic Party,” Palmieri said. “He is someone that she has admired and been inspired by.”

Some parts of the speech that campaign officials previewed Thursday, in fact, could just as easily have come from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who is also running for the nomination, albeit as a major underdog to Clinton. She will say that hedge fund managers and bankers need to take more responsibility for the welfare of the country, ostensibly by contributing more of their earnings to government. She will herald “everyday Americans” for making sacrifices that mended the national economy and proclaim it is their turn to be rewarded, announcing, “It is your time.”

Clinton will be accompanied in New York by her husband, former President Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea. It will be the first time the family has appeared together at a campaign event since Clinton announced her run.

The candidate was notably absent from another major family event this week, the annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver. It’s part of the family’s foundation, which has been a source of relentless negative press for Clinton of late, as reporters investigate the millions of dollars in donations it received from foreigners with business interests in America while she was secretary of State.

Saturday’s rally will be followed by a whirlwind of events in early caucus and primary states. Clinton will be in Iowa by nightfall on Saturday, in New Hampshire on Monday and then off to campaign events in South Carolina and Nevada by the middle of next week. Clinton will tease some of the big policy proposals the campaign will unveil over the summer.

Whether the speech will live up to the billing of campaign officials as an event that will give voters a personal connection to Clinton remains to be seen – many of the proclamations Clinton intends to make in it seem a mere amplification of points she has been raising already in more intimate settings.


But the goal is to supplant what voters may think they know about Clinton’s personal story with a more textured portrait to which they can relate and find inspiration in.

“People know she is a fighter who does not quit and hangs in there,” Palmieri said. “It is important that they understand where this comes from. … She has been on the national stage for a long time, but we think there is a lot to fill in. When you are asking people to put their faith in you to be their president, it is a big ask.”

Clinton will talk in detail about her mother, the late Dorothy Rodham, who was abandoned as a child, sent to California to live with harsh and unloving grandparents, and found redemption in her early teen years through the kindness of an employer who provided cheap room and board and encouraged her to finish high school.

“Clinton will discuss how her mother shaped the person she is today and why she could not duck away from this fight,” said a preview from the campaign. Clinton will attribute her “fighter’s instinct” to her mother, according to the campaign, as well as her belief that “everyone needs a champion.”


The speech will be accompanied by a major social media push, centered on a video the campaign is producing about the “fights Hillary Clinton has taken on during her career.”