Hillary Clinton Wants You to Know She’s From Chicago

There’s a lot for her to gain in reattaching her story to the Windy City.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MAY 06: Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on May 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. Clinton discussed various topics including mental health and social issues.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
June 11, 2014, 1 a.m.

When most Amer­ic­ans think of the Clin­tons, they think Arkan­sas, and with good reas­on. The couple spent years there as Bill, who was born in the state, ran for of­fice and even­tu­ally be­came gov­ernor. Their daugh­ter, Chelsea was raised there un­til they moved to the White House. Many of the Clin­tons’ best friends to this day come from the state.

But Hil­lary Clin­ton is not from Arkan­sas; she’s from sub­urb­an Chica­go. And it’s that her­it­age that she’s been put­ting front and cen­ter in the lead up to a po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial run, reach­ing a cres­cendo this week with the re­lease of her new book and two ap­pear­ances in the Windy City.

While Clin­ton has al­ways drawn on her Mid­w­est up­bring­ing in her per­son­al nar­rat­ive, Pres­id­ent Obama has ec­lipsed her Chica­go con­nec­tion in more re­cent years, and there could be polit­ic­al be­ne­fits for the former sec­ret­ary of State in rees­tab­lish­ing them.

At the mo­ment, the second city is in the thrall of what Chica­go Tribune colum­nist Rick Pear­son called ” a three-week peri­od of Clin­ton­mania.” The craze star­ted on Thursday, when the pro-Clin­ton su­per PAC Ready for Hil­lary held a $1,000-a-per­son fun­draiser with May­or Rahm Emanuel, a Clin­ton and Obama White House vet­er­an who has be­come her am­bas­sad­or and evan­gel­ist in the city. When he en­dorsed Clin­ton last month, he praised her “Chica­go-area work eth­ic.”

Also in at­tend­ance was Sen. Dick Durbin, the Sen­ate’s No. 2 Demo­crat, who snubbed Clin­ton in 2008 for a young­er sen­at­or with stronger ties to the state. Now, he says he’s so en­thused about a Clin­ton bid that he hasn’t even con­sidered an “al­tern­at­ive scen­ario.” More than 300 people turned out for an­oth­er, more demo­crat­ic­ally priced ($20.16), Ready for Hil­lary event later Thursday night.

On Tues­day, the day her much-an­ti­cip­ated new book hit stores, Clin­ton re­turned to Chica­go for a paid speech after a pro­mo­tion­al stop that morn­ing in New York City. On Wed­nes­day, she stays an­oth­er day to par­ti­cip­ate in the Chica­go Ideas Week event, where Emanuel will con­duct a Q&A with the po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate.

And to re­pay the fa­vor, Clin­ton will be back once again 10 days later to head­line a fun­draiser for the may­or (who went to the Ready for Hil­lary event even though it was on his wed­ding an­niversary).

In re­cent months, Clin­ton has rooted for loc­al sports teams; ac­cep­ted the state’s highest award from Gov. Pat Quinn, who said Clin­ton “per­son­i­fied the best of Illinois”; and used any avail­able op­por­tun­ity to speak about her up­bring­ing in leafy Park Ridge. She’s re­layed an­ec­dotes about “mush­ball,” an en­dem­ic vari­ant of soft­ball, re­called her loc­al Meth­od­ist church, and high­lighted the Mid­west­ern val­ues she says her par­ents in­stilled in her.

And on, and on, and on.

Plus, while her book tour is mak­ing sev­er­al stops in Chica­go, she’s skip­ping Arkan­sas, at least in the dates known so far. (She has, however, vis­ited Arkan­sas re­cently, not in con­nec­tion with the book.)

Of course, this could all be co­in­cid­ence, or it could be a genu­ine de­sire to re­con­nect with her roots. Either way, there’s a po­ten­tial polit­ic­al pay­off.

For one thing, Illinois is a del­eg­ate-rich Su­per Tues­day state where Obama creamed Clin­ton in 2008. Clin­ton is the only Demo­crat eye­ing a bid this time who has ties to the state. It’s also eco­nom­ic­ally and cul­tur­ally tied to Iowa, where both Clin­tons have faltered in the past. The Quad Cit­ies me­dia mar­ket spreads in­to both states, for in­stance.

For an­oth­er, it’s home to sev­er­al of the party’s largest donors, many of whom were un­avail­able to Clin­ton dur­ing Obama’s rise, such as the Pritzker fam­ily.

More gen­er­ally, play­ing up her Chica­go roots could help dif­fer­en­ti­ate Clin­ton from her hus­band, whose shad­ow looms large in her bio­graphy. And a Mid­west­ern im­age could help blunt at­tacks that she’s gone coastal and got­ten out of touch with av­er­age Amer­ic­ans.

Next, maybe she’ll be root­ing for the Cubs — which hap­pen to be owned by Demo­crat­ic mega-donor Laura Rick­etts — or court­ing Mike Ditka, since they both have one thing in com­mon.

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