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Politics

Clinton: Make America Whole Again

Aides say she's unlikely to engage much directly with Trump. But in a new phase of the Democratic primary, Clinton is recasting her message around empathy and unity.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice."

Speaking from the lectern at Greater Imani Church Cathedral of Faith on Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton began her final push to win Super Tuesday support here with a message of unity, empathy, and understanding. The day after her resounding win in the South Carolina primary, with just 48 hours until the March 1 contests, Clinton flew to Memphis to address two predominantly black congregations.

At both church stops, Clinton expanded on an appeal for togetherness that lay at the heart of her South Carolina victory speech. "My goal in running for president is to break down every barrier that holds any American belt from achieving his or her God-given potential," she told voters at Greater Imani, where the Rev. Bill Adkins introduced her as "our next president" to cheers from the congregants.

Meanwhile, as calls of yes and amen sounded from the pews at Greater Imani, Donald Trump was making the talk show rounds. By mid-morning, the Republican Party frontrunner would refuse to denounce endorsements from a former KKK leader and explain his retweet of a Mussolini quote as "a very good quote."

Clinton did not reference the comments directly in her speeches on Sunday. But in South Carolina and in Tennessee — referencing the infamous "Make America Great Again" slogan — Clinton sought to cast herself as the anti-Trump. This latest pitch to voters, her aides have suggested, would carry over into a general election.

"We have work to do," Clinton told Greater Imani. "I said last night, America has never stopped being great."

"Amen!” a man in the congregation shouted.

"Our task is to make America whole," Clinton said slowly.

The crowd stood in the pews and clapped.

"I want to be not just your president but your partner," Clinton said, "to work on not only the big issues here at home or around the world, but those issues that keep you up at night. That get you worried. That make you wonder whether you’re gonna be able to get ahead and stay ahead. You see, I really do believe if we pull together, if we act like the United States, America’s best years can still be ahead of us."

"We have to begin to listen to one another," Clinton continued. "To look for ways to lift each other up, not push each other down. We need to move away from the mean-spiritedness and divisiveness in our political rhetoric and our daily lives."

For now, though, still locked in a competitive primary with Bernie Sanders, Clinton is unlikely to engage much more with Trump on specific points or his remarks on Sunday morning, aides said. At a stop in Nashville later in the afternoon, when actor and campaign surrogate Tony Goldwyn mentioned Trump's comments in passing, Clinton offered a quick off-the-cuff response: "Oh, that's pathetic," she said.

More broadly, aides see the "unity" message as a newly refined way to link the campaign's policy proposals and thematic elements to Clinton's own personal motivations — a piece of the campaign aides have struggled with for months.

"I think we need more love and kindness," she told the congregation in Memphis. As cheers filled Greater Imani Church Cathedral, Clinton turned back at Adkins.

"That should not be reserved for Sunday morning, pastor."

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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