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Hillary Clinton Tries to Pitch Herself As Just-Folks on the Campaign Trail

Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton speaks with local steel workers and civic leaders during her campaign stop at Alma's Italian Cafe in Ashland, Ky.Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty

Hillary Clinton is giving it her best try at being like Real America.

The former Secretary of State merely mentioned her work on children’s issues at “the university” during a meeting with working parents in Lexington on Tuesday, leaving out the Ivy League law degree she earned at Yale. She told a crowd in Louisville later in the day that she often found that when daughter Chelsea was sick, her sitter was as well, and it was a nightmare finding childcare. Never mind that Clinton, at the time, was working as the first female partner at the storied Rose Law Firm. And when discussing her pledge to defend Obamacare, she slipped into a good ol’ gal voice: “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it.”

Such is the task for the former First Lady, former Senator and former Secretary of State. As she is inching closer to officially becoming the Democratic nominee—even her expected loss Tuesday night in West Virginia wouldn’t be enough for rival Bernie Sanders to overtake her in the delegate race—Clinton is trying to be more of-the-people. Sure, she flew from Lexington to Louisville by private jet Tuesday afternoon, but she’s really trying to channel her husband’s innate ability to convince working-class voters that she feels their pain.

“We cannot keep saying families need to buckle down and tighten their belts. Belts are about as tight as they can get for the vast majority of families,” she said in announcing a childcare proposal that would cap costs at 10% of a family’s income. “Something’s gotta’ change.”

Clinton, to be sure, has a long way to go before she convinces anyone she’s a regular American. Her family has become wealthy after Bill Clinton’s eight years in the White House, and her books and speaking fees have added tens of millions more to their checking accounts. In the 16 months after she left the State Department, she earned $30 million—or the household income of 577 average American families.

But Clinton has never been average by any measure. That’s almost impossible for someone who is poised to become the first woman ever nominated as a major party’s candidate, never mind a figure who could become the first woman elected to the Presidency. What she lacks in campaign polish she makes up with a wonk’s understanding of policy. And her technically superior campaign is ready to run circles around presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump if he doesn’t get his act together and stop feuding with fellow Republicans.

Clinton is not taking chances and is working to surpass the devastating assessment then-rival Barack Obama leveled against her eight years ago: “You’re likable enough.” Where Trump brags about his vast wealth, Clinton does her best to act like the next-door neighbor. She joked to a small group of working parents in Lexington that her daughter Chelsea had to re-teach her how to handle a newborn when granddaughter Charlotte was born. “I’m learning how to swaddle a baby. That’s an art form,” Hillary Clinton laughed in Lexington.

A few hours later, she tried to talk fashion with patients at a community health clinic in Louisville. “I love this color,” she gushed, trying to relate to these women. “I have a couple of things in this color.”

And then she sounded like a woman bored by her spouse. “My husband was at Morehead State the other day and he can’t stop talking about it,” she said, an eye roll implied in her voice at a campaign rally at Louisville Slugger Field. She later decried the wage gap for women with a laugh-line about shopping. “I can tell you as woman who has shopped for most of her life, I have never gotten a discount at the cashier,” she said.

And by the end of the day, she was back with little Charlotte. “Those of you who have grandchildren know you are just obsessed with them. It’s kind of weird,” she said. “You just sit there and stare at them.”

Clinton’s allies are trying to cast the former Secretary of State as a competent and capable contender in the face of Trump’s theatrics. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better resume for President of the United States than Hillary Clinton,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “We need a serious candidate.”

It’s a risk, for sure, in a year that has seen voters reject more traditional candidates with impressive resumes. Senators and Governors found themselves easily dispatched by Trump during the primaries, and that feeling might continue into the general election. Clinton is betting that she can disqualify Trump, if not be more likable than he is.

“Donald Trump actually stood on a debate stage and argued that Americans are paid too much, not too little,” Clinton said. “It’s troubling to me because if you’re going to grow the economy, it’s kind of obvious that you want people making money.” Money, like Clinton has made. Just don’t tell the voters.

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