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Mother-daughter look-alikes: Watching Chelsea do her thing

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Rick Horowitz
February 12, 2008
— She’s her mother’s daughter, no question about it. And the more questions she answers, the stronger the resemblance.

The biggest question in the room, though, is: Is it enough? Enough, that is, to capture the fancy of younger voters who’ve been flocking to The Other Guy.


We’re in the ballroom at the Student Union of UW-Milwaukee. Wisconsin’s primary is Feb. 19, and Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter, is making the case for mom, here on the first stop of a two-day, multi-campus swing through the Badger State.


There’s a crowd of 150 or so—the curious, the committed and those somewhere in between—seated banquet-style at round tables, while the overflow stands attentive at the back of the room.


“Nobody has a lock on this market!” the lieutenant governor, a Clinton backer, has declared in introducing her. At my table, they’re not so sure. To my left, two students—women in their mid-30s—are already in Hillary’s corner, but they’ve come to this event partly to see just how the Clinton campaign intends to go after their younger fellow students, how they intend to compete with the excitement of the Obama wave.


The answer seems to be: quietly.


At the front of the room, before a banner that reads “Hillblazers” and “Our Voice, Our Future,” Chelsea is working solo, a microphone in her hand.


She’s not here to make a speech, she makes clear.


“I am just here to answer whatever questions you might have about her, or her policies.”


Which she does, for nearly an hour.


And boy, is she impressive.


For starters, she’s not 11 anymore. She’s 27.


She’s been kept under wraps and out of the limelight for so long, nobody really knows what to expect from her. But what she delivers, without a trace of gawkiness or hesitation, are perfectly organized sentences and perfect, multipart paragraphs loaded with information.


The cost of college? (“I’m so glad that you asked that question…”) Health care? Veterans’ benefits? Gay marriage? Global warming? Iraq?


For each question, a quick recap of where the issue stands right now, why it matters, what her mother’s approach has been. And then she asks her own questions:


“So what will she do, and how will she pay for it?”


Or “Why is that important?”


Or “So what does that mean at the federal level?”


And here come her answers. The details. Precise.


Exhaustive. (Exhausting?)


Sound like anybody else you know?


She’s wearing jeans instead of a pantsuit, and her voice never rises anywhere near a shout, but otherwise…


She’s even got that head-bobbing thing her mother does when she makes a good point and people applaud.


No doubt about it: She’s just like Hillary!


But is she, like, getting through?


“I know this might sound like a laundry list,” she admits midway through another recitation, “but these are actually very practical things that matter.”


When time is up, she thanks the crowd, urges them to vote, then lingers at the side of the stage to greet the several dozen students who quickly surround her to say a word or pose for pictures.


Then she’ll be off to her next event, to another college crowd.


My tablemates—the mid-30s Clinton supporters—aren’t sure she’s made the sale.


Composed? Certainly.


Substantive? Absolutely.


But they’re not sure she gave the students what they needed—something that excites them.


She aimed for their heads, occasionally for their wallets, but never for their hearts.


And across the room a few moments later, the lieutenant governor is offering her own take on Chelsea’s visit.


“It was,” she’s saying, “quite a good tutorial.”


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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