back to top

Hillary Clinton Finds Her Message

Working families are the focus at a rally for Tom Wolf in Philadelphia — her first big political speech since last year. "It is past time for a fresh start."

Posted on

PHILADELPHIA — Last month, while Hillary Clinton waited with her family in Lenox Hill Hospital for her new grandchild, a nurse approached in the hallway.

"Thank you. Thank you for fighting for paid leave," she told Clinton, who recalled the story of "waiting for little Charlotte" in front of a crowd of about 1,000 at a women's rally for Tom Wolf, the Democrat running for governor in Pennsylvania.

"Here she is, taking care of other people's babies," Clinton said, "trying to piece together what she can."

"A 20th century economy will not work for 21st century families."

"It is past time for a fresh start," she said.

Lines like these made up the outline of something new and important for Clinton on Thursday night in downtown Philadelphia: a message to Democratic voters.

During the rousing 20-minute-long speech here at the National Constitution Center, on a stage overlooking the long, grassy lawn that stretches out toward Independence Hall, Clinton cast working families — and women struggling to balance work with childcare — as "the building block of the Democratic Party."

After a summer promoting her memoir, in which she recalled the highs and lows of her four years as secretary of state, Clinton turned the lens on voters here Thursday, debuting what could very well be her message to the American electorate should she decide to run for president again in two years.

The event for Wolf, who is up by double digits in polls against the current governor, Tom Corbett, was Clinton's first campaign rally for a single candidate since she appeared at a women's event last year for her old friend, Terry McAuliffe, now governor of Virginia.

The thread running through Clinton's message here in Pennsylvania, the state she won six years ago in a primary against Barack Obama, was working families — a theme she teased repeatedly throughout her speech with populist undertones, mentions of her granddaughter, and stories about her own trips as a child to Scranton, where Clinton's father, Hugh, was born to a working-class immigrant family.

"You should not have to be the grandchild of a president to get a good education, to get good healthcare," she said. "Let's make sure we give every child in Pennsylvania the same chance that I'm determined to give my granddaughter."

"We have spent years now clawing our way back out of the hole that was dug in 2008," Clinton said, "but we have a lot more to do if we want to release our full potential and make sure what American families finally feel the rewards of recovery."

Point after point, she criticized Corbett's four-year record in the state, saying "working people haven't had a raise in over a decade" and noting the downgrade in the state's bond rating at "a a time when corporations seem to have all the rights and none of the responsibilities" of regular people, Clinton said.

Wolf, she told the crowd, wanted "Pennsylvania families to have a fair shot and a fresh start." And he would never "support a law forcing women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure," she said. "He will never tell Pennsylvania women to 'stop complaining, you just have to close your eyes.' He will never compare the marriage of two loving and committed partners to incest."

Clinton noted that her daughter's mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies, had come to the rally. "It is actually a family affair. And it is for me, too," she said.

"We're feeling the same grandmother glow these days."

Toward the end of her speech, Clinton told the audience Wolf's poll numbers might be high, but people still had to turn out to vote. "From my perspective, you can't count on things turning out the way you want, unless you get out and work for it, right," she said, in a line that could have easily been a reference to what many Democrats believe is her own advantage in a possible presidential election.

The Thursday rally was for Wolf, the gubernatorial candidate, but from beginning to end, Clinton was the clear focus.

During a series of introductions, which lasted about 30 minutes, Rep. Allyson Schwartz made multiple references to the night's "special guest," and former Gov. Ed Rendell recalled his old chant from the 2008 campaign — "Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!"

He mentioning the candidate himself almost as an afterthought. ("Now, it's my pleasure to talk very briefly about Tom Wolf," Rendell said after several long overtures about Clinton, his longtime friend.)

Even Wolf had trouble keeping the crowd's attention.

"I'm especially honored to be able to introduce the person you're all here to see: Hillary Clinton," he said when he took the stage. The crowd cheered at the mention of her name. "I'm not sure how to take that."

At one point, as Wolf introduced the former secretary of state, listing "four qualities" he admired about her, Clinton emerged from a curtain to the right of the stage, thinking Wolf was finished.

The cheers from the crowd were so loud, Wolf had to stop his speech mid-sentence.

"Listen, I'm the one running for governor," he said.

The crowd kept cheering.

"Get back there I'm not finished yet!" Wolf finally joked.

Clinton lifted the curtain and ducked backstage. The audience quieted as Wolf sped through the rest of his introduction, letting Clinton take the stage again.

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

Contact Ruby Cramer at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.