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Back To The '90s: Hillary Clinton Campaigns With "Clinton Democrat"

Campaigning for a former employee on Monday, Clinton smoothly folded '90s themes into her fast-developing stump speech. A more comfortable atmosphere.

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SOMERS, New York — When Sean Patrick Maloney took the stage on Monday at a Westchester County rally with his old boss, Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," the theme song for Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign, filled the banquet hall.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow.
Don't stop, it'll soon be here.

When the crowd greeted him in Heritage Hills, a complex of condos in this midsize New York town, they raised signs that read, "Clinton Democrat for Congress."

And when Maloney, running for a second term in the House of Representatives, wrapped up his speech here, he invoked a string of legendary lines from the 1992 race. "I believe in a place called Hope," Maloney said. "I believe in walking across that bridge to the 21st century. And we won't stop thinking about tomorrow."

By the time Maloney introduced his headliner, Hillary Clinton, he'd made the point clear enough: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm a Clinton Democrat."

Maloney, a former Clinton campaign staffer and senior White House aide, rallied the crowd in Somers with repeated references to the former first family and the distinct political brand they brought to the Democratic Party in the early '90s.

The speech was a bit of a time warp. But it also proved that the ideas behind the 1992 campaign, which Maloney outlined in his speech, could still translate more than two decades years later on the stump for him and Clinton both.

Even as the former secretary and New York senator has moved toward embracing a more explicitly progressive message than the mix of centrism and populism that defined her husband's first White House bid, she knitted together the speech she's been using on the trail this month with a handful of themes from that first campaign.

For instance: When Maloney closed his speech with language Bill Clinton took national in 1991 — the troika of "basic, enduring" values: "opportunity for all, responsibility from all, in a community of all" — Clinton came back to the line in her own remarks.

"I loved what you said at the end," she said during her 20-minute speech. "When we crisscrossed our country in 1992, that's exactly the message that Bill Clinton took forth: opportunity, responsibility, community. And just like Sean, I was blessed to have parents who worked hard and gave me the opportunities and expected the responsibilities in the community that I grew up in."

Clinton added that she wanted to make sure her "precious granddaughter, Charlotte," who was born late last month, would enjoy those same rights too.

During his speech, Maloney recalled his move to Arkansas in early 1992 to work for Hillary Clinton on the campaign. He packed everything he owned into his pickup truck — "Everything," he stressed. "I didn't have any future" — and drove the 1,300 miles to Little Rock, where he set up his mattress on the floor of another aide, Susan Thomases. "I was part of what they called Hillaryland."

The Clintons, Maloney said, "spoke about a dream of a prosperous America where the middle class would do well, where the middle class would thrive."

"And folks, they made that dream a reality."

Clinton said she remembered meeting Maloney in New Hampshire one night in 1992. He joined the campaign, she said, because he believed, "as Bill and I did, that we needed changes in America and we needed to be putting people first."

"I'm proud of how hard Sean has worked since then — in the White House, in other important positions, now in the Congress — to continuing that idea."

This month on the campaign trail, where she has tweaked and honed a stump speech at rallies across about a dozen states, Clinton has found a window into the debate over economic inequality through issues like equal pay for women and a minimum-wage increase. And she has more consciously embraced some of the populist language associated with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive figurehead.

That appeared to go awry last Friday when Clinton fumbled a line saying that "corporations and businesses" don't create jobs. She clarified during her speech in Somers that she had "short-handed" the point. Corporations that "outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas" shouldn't be handed tax breaks, she said.

On Monday, Clinton's economic arguments seemed much more natural, framed through the lens of middle-class families. She also returned to a familiar line about "trickle-down economics," a theory she and her husband have long denounced. He first campaigned against the idea in 1992.

"The Republican alternative is a discredited economic theory that will hurt middle-class families." Maloney, Clinton added, "stands for equality, equality of opportunity."

"We are supposed to be about upward mobility. If you work hard and do your part, you and your family are supposed to be able to have a better life."

Maloney, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, is in a competitive race against Nan Hayworth, the Republican he beat two years ago to win his seat in New York's 18th district.

About 150 people, many elderly residents of the housing complex, packed the event at the restaurant hall in Heritage Hills. (Attendees couldn't leave until Clinton had vacated the venue, and two people passed out waiting for her departure, according to a security officer staffing the event.)

Clinton is scheduled to continue her tour on behalf of Democrats on Wednesday, with two campaign events for Rep. Bruce Braley, the U.S. senate candidate in Iowa. On Thursday, she heads to Maryland for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the gubernatorial nominee there. And on Saturday, she will return to Kentucky to stump at two events with Alison Lundergan Grimes, another longtime friend of the Clintons.

Maloney is the only individual candidate in the House of Representatives that Clinton has campaigned for this fall.

Asked later by reporters to define "Clinton Democrat," Maloney said, "Fighting for the middle class, reaching across the aisle, and getting bipartisan results."

Grimes, running against Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, has also called herself a "Clinton Democrat." Her family has been close to the Clintons for years.

Maloney and his old bosses have remained close. The Clintons were invited to his wedding. And Bill Clinton campaigned for Maloney two years ago.

The congressman's campaign said on Monday that they planned to roll out a new television ad featuring tape of that event with the 42nd president.

Before closing his speech on Monday, Maloney said that when people ask him why he wants to work in government, he often replies, "Because I've seen it work."

"I've seen the Clintons work."

Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Ruby Cramer at ruby.cramer@buzzfeed.com.

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