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Clinton Set Out to Earn Trust, Make Connections

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

When Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for president a year ago, she told Americans, I am the most famous person you really don't know.

NPR's David Greene has been following Clinton around the country, and he reports on how she's handled the likeability challenge.

DAVID GREENE: Hillary Clinton was at a debate in New Hampshire last month and the moderator came at her with this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS-FACEBOOK DEBATE)

SCOTT SPRADLING: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likeability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENE: The next day, Clinton said there was a lesson from the debate.

CLINTON: Obviously, we all want to be likeable. And I think it's good to have a likeable president. But if I remember right, a lot of people said they were voting for George Bush because they want to have a beer with him, and maybe they should have left it at that. Have a beer, don't vote him in as our president.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

GREENE: But personal connections are important in politics, and Hillary Clinton has struggled with them. Democratic voters talk about her experience and how she inspires confidence, but they rarely talk about her as a person. That seemed to change, though, in one television moment in New Hampshire.

CLINTON: You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening and we have to reverse it.

GREENE: The footage of her tearing up aired all over New Hampshire. Thirty-six- year-old Cristina Anderson(ph) said at the time that she saw it and decided to vote for Clinton.

CRISTINA ANDERSON: I didn't really see that as an emotional outburst or crying at all. What I saw is someone who really felt deeply about what they were doing and felt trust and some conviction, and I connected to that.

GREENE: That was the storyline as Clinton won New Hampshire. And it was powerful enough that when she seemed to choke up again today while campaigning in Connecticut, the brief moment of emotion made national news.

CLINTON: Well, I said I would not tear up...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: ...and already, we're not exactly on that path.

GREENE: But such moments of vulnerability has been rare. And in the last primary in South Carolina, the Clinton campaign showed its tougher side. That side was often represented by Senator Clinton's husband, Bill, who made it his job to go after Barack Obama. The effect was to take focus away from the candidate herself. And Hillary Clinton seemed to know that. A few days after South Carolina, she made a point of telling reporters, this is my campaign.

Last night, relaxed but exhausted, Hillary Clinton came to a Super Bowl party in Minneapolis. She agreed to talk for a few minutes about her effort to define herself.

CLINTON: I've been passionate about children's issues and women's issues and issues of justice - legal and economic - for my entire life. And I think that, you know, as the campaign went on, it became clear that I needed to, you know, demonstrate sort of who I am as a total package. You know, what I believe in, what I care about, why I do what I do. And so, I've worked on that all year.

GREENE: But then, there's the share-a-beer factor, the question of which candidate voters would rather just hang out with.

CLINTON: I don't think this is a student council election. I think this is really serious business about the direction of our country.

GREENE: The suggestion was, you know, you might not want to have a beer me, but I'll be a great president. Do people now want to sit down and have a beer with you?

CLINTON: A lot of people do. I've had more than a few beers at the campaign trail this past year. Had some, you know, good local beers and microbrews. So, you know, I think it's the wrong question.

GREENE: She says it's not about sharing a beer; it's about sharing goals and a commitment to getting things done.

David Green, NPR News, New Haven, Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.