Sunday, February 17, 2008

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Chelsea Clinton tells students about her mother’s plans for the economy and mortgages. The former first daughter outlines Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concern about the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan and women’s rights. She ticks through talking points on electability, health care and the environment.

And she reveals her mother wants grandchildren and her father builds their schedule around a popular TV drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Miss Clinton has emerged as a top surrogate for her mother as the former first lady has fallen behind Sen. Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Now dispatched to college campuses, the long-silent Miss Clinton has sought to blend campaign spin with personal touches. But she’s also drawn a share of unsought attention, including an MSNBC reporter who suggested she is being “pimped out” by her parents.

The Clintons instituted a firm circle of silence around their daughter when Bill Clinton won his first White House term in 1992, and she began this campaign as uneasy stage-dressing beside her mother, never speaking in Iowa and New Hampshire. By now, she’s a full-fledged player in the campaign, something she had vowed to avoid.

“I live and work in New York and have had a private life — at least, did until about five weeks ago,” Miss Clinton lamented during a stop at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College. She’s an associate with Avenue Capital, a $12 billion hedge fund run by Marc Lasry, a longtime Clinton donor.

She’s tried to be a good sport about her new role. At Sinclair, she wore an oversized school sweat shirt that muted her clapping. As she took the microphone, she pushed up the sleeves and went to work trying to sell her mother’s campaign. But political life is clearly not her strength.

While the answers are almost identical to her mother’s, the presentation is far from it. Mrs. Clinton on the campaign trail is as polished as they come — every hand gesture and every pause choreographed for maximum effect. Miss Clinton lacks her mother’s execution, and her voice is soft and often trails off at the end of sentences, which frustrates audiences.

“The full stretch of my political aspiration is to help her be my president,” she said. And she doesn’t plan to run for office herself or move back into the White House.

“I’m 27. I’m not going to be moving back in with parents, as much as I love them,” she says repeatedly on the trail.

While pressing her mother’s case, she still has refused to talk on-the-record to reporters. She politely smiles when reporters ask questions. In Iowa, she even refused to answer questions from a 9-year-old Scholastic News reporter.

“I’m sorry, I don’t talk to the press and that applies to you, unfortunately. Even though I think you’re cute,” Miss Clinton told the pint-sized journalist.

Her new role has drawn criticism. Miss Clinton has been calling and meeting with superdelegates, but MSNBC anchor David Shuster noted that she refuses to answer questions about what she’s doing. Mr. Shuster was later suspended for suggesting she had been “pimped out.”

She must be doing something right, because the campaign gave a plum assignment this weekend: three days of campaigning in Hawaii, where Democrats hold caucuses Tuesday.

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