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Clinton's Steady Diet of Middle Class

[Photo]
Maid Rite for Clinton

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton promised both a return to the economic prosperity of the 1990s and a "new beginning to the 21st century" on Monday as she pushed forward with a new campaign to aimed squarely at middle-class voters.

Clinton, dominant in national polls, has toned down her message of "change' over the last few days. Instead, she is rolling across Iowa in a campaign bus with the "Middle Class" emblazoned across the side -- a not so subtle signal of her shift in emphasis.

In a morning economic address in Cedar Rapids, Clinton confronted the question of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a pact her husband signed into law but that has troubled her efforts to win over the labor movement. She said that, as president, she would require all trade agreements, including NAFTA, to be reassessed every five years to see how well they were working.

And Clinton, in a detailed and sometimes wonkish speech, blamed a confluence of factors -- especially stagnant wages, high consumer debt and dropping real estate values -- for creating a "trap door economy" that middle class Americans are increasingly falling through. "Too many families are standing on that trap door," Clinton said. She said families are "just one diagnosis, one pink slip, one missed mortgage payment away from falling through and losing everything."

Later in the day, at an outdoor rally that drew several hundred people here, Clinton criticized President Bush for recently vetoing an increase in state health insurance for children.
"Let's veto George Bush," Clinton said, drawing loud applause.

No sooner had Clinton spoken than her rivals-- both within the Democratic field and on the Republican side--accused her of pursuing goals that were not ambitious enough and too far-reaching, respectively. "Hillary Clinton's economic plan falls short of the big, bold policies America's middle class needs," John Edwards campaign spokeswoman Colleen Murray said. "The truth is that the best thing Sen. Clinton could do for the middle class is stop defending a rigged system in Washington that is serving the interests of corporate America at the expense of America's hard-working families." Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said: "Only Hillary Clinton could talk about prosperity for the middle class one moment and propose dramatic spending increases, massive government growth and higher taxes for all Americans the next."

Clinton is, according to a recent Des Moines Register poll, ahead of the other top two Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. Edwards, in Iowa. Still, Clinton is working to demonstrate that she can relate to ordinary voters. And so it was that she wound up at the counter of a Maid Rite fast food joint in between campaign stops, sitting down for a $2.59 loose-meat ground beef sandwich ("a sloppy Joe, without the sloppy," Christie Vilsack, the wife of former Governor Tom Vilsack, explained).

When Clinton first arrived, there were only two patrons in the place. So she wandered the shop, finally sitting down in a booth with Stuart Appelbaum, president of the department store workers union, who had flown to Iowa from New York to travel with Clinton on the campaign trail.

Finally, after chatting up members of her own entourage for the cameras, Clinton settled back down to eat alongside Vilsack and Ruth Harkin, the wife of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Then they finally discovered an actual Iowan, waitress Anita Esterday, who told the three women about raising two sons as a single mother and working three shifts to pay bills. "I wasn't expecting this," said Esterday, who had just started her job that day.
Clinton retold Esterday's story at her next stop. "Her story was a perfect illustration of what I was talking about," Clinton said. "We've got to get our economy moving again so it creates opportunity for hard-working Americans."

--Anne E. Kornblut

By Post Editor  |  October 8, 2007; 5:20 PM ET
 
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