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Would You Hire Hillary Clinton?

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Hillary Clinton just wrapped up a rally here at the University of Toledo, her last Ohio event before heading to Texas, where's she's spending most of the next two days.  (Tomorrow night, once the voting in both states is done, she'll come back to Columbus.)  And the show of support for her candidacy was, well, something short of overwhelming.  

The press schedule said the event was called for 9:30 a.m.  I actually arrived a few minutes late, somewhat panicked that I'd never find parking.  But I did -- and had no problem getting inside, where the event had begun but Clinton had yet to take the stage. 

By my very rough count, there were maybe 400 people in the audience.  And, judging by the signs and shirts, at least half if not more were local union members, the majority of them from AFSCME.  The room -- a large meeting hall inside the student union -- certainly wasn't empty.  Supporters were crowded up against the stage, so much so that one actually fainted.  But towards the back there was plenty of room.  As Clinton worked her way through her speech, I saw several audience members sitting on the floor, where they had plenty of room to sprawl out.

Still, by now everybody has learned not to read too much into the size of Clinton's audiences.  She wasn't the one who drew NBA sized audiences in Boston and East Rutheford, but she was the utlimate victor in Massachusetts and New Jersey.  And so while Obama was the one who filled arenas in Cleveland a few days ago, Clinton remains the favorite to win Ohio, according to the polls.

And listening to her just now, it was easy to see why that might be.  She offered her typically thorough explanation of policy proposals, which -- however workmanlike -- hit the notes the audience wanted to hear.  She talked mostly about trade, promising again to revisit NAFTA.  She also took a direct swipe at Obama, citing the recent controversy over whether one of his advisers told a Canadian official Obama's pronouncements on trade were merely campaign rhetoric. "I don't have my campaign tell a foreign government behind closed doors 'that's just politics,'" Clinton said. "I tell you what I mean." (Apologies if the quote isn't exact; my notes on that line aren't perfect.  For more on this flap, see Noam's writeup here.)

Health care also figured prominently in her speech, as always.  And while the reporters following her may have rolled their eyes at the umpeenth discusson of the issue, she held the audience pretty rapt with a story she'd heard downstate earlier in the campaign.  As Clinton told it, it was about an uninsured woman witha a troubled pregnancy who tried to get prenatal care but was turned away, because she couldn't afford $100 exam fee upfront.  The woman ended up losing the baby -- and, eventually, her own life.  (She also ended up costing the state far more in emergency care -- hundreds of thousands of dollars, Clinton said -- than the relatively puny costs of the proper prenatal tratment.)

Clinton also used the event to showcase her new* slogan, which she's been using in Ohio: "Who would you hire?"

It's hard to think of four words that could better capture the entirety of her argument.  It stresses her experience -- or, to put in more union-friendly terms, her seniority.  And while that's not exactly a new argument for Clinton, the slogan has other layers of meaning, as well. Among other things, it instantaly conjures images of people looking for jobs, which is precisely the sort of issue that Clinton hopes will be foremost in voters minds. 

It is also about as close as Clinton is going to come to replicating Obama's theme of empowerment.  Like all great organizers, Obama has generated such incredible enthusiasm among supporters by convincing them (rightly so!) that by supporting him they are actually creating a political force that will change their lives for the better.  That's the secret of movement-building. 

Clinton has never been -- and will never be -- able to do the same thing.  But by asking voters "who would you hire," she does manage to make her campaign about more than herself.  After all, it suggests that the voters are in charge -- and that, by casting their ballots one way or another, they have the power to change their own lives.  

Naturally, the slogan is going to play well in states like Ohio, where the economy is particularly bleak.  But in a year when the economy is now the voters' top concern, it's bound to resonate with voters in other states, too.  In fact, I can't help but wonder why nobody at the Clinton campaign thought of this slogan earlier.

--Jonathan Cohn

* Note to readers: If, in fact, this slogan is old news, please let me know!