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.