Clinton's infant granddaughter a touchstone in 2016 campaign

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Posted: Apr 22, 2015 1:19 PM
Clinton's infant granddaughter a touchstone in 2016 campaign

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — They don't make power suits in her size. If asked for political insights, she might just respond with a goo or a giggle. And her campaign vehicle of choice is a stroller.

But Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky is playing a significant part in Grandma Hillary's 2016 presidential bid.

Since her birth in September, the daughter of Chelsea Clinton and husband Marc Mezvinsky has been a political star, photographed while cradled in the arms of Bill and Hillary Clinton and name-dropped by her grandmother as a newborn during the 2014 midterm elections.

Today, little Charlotte remains a topic of conversation for Clinton as she begins her second race for the White House. Indeed, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state mentions Charlotte much more than she does husband Bill, the former president.

Clinton says the birth of her first grandchild has been transformative. She credits the bundle of joy with inspiring her to stay in political life and uses her as a touchstone when she speaks about policy.

"Luckily, my daughter and her husband are obviously well educated, they work hard, they'll provide everything Charlotte needs," Clinton said at a house party during her New Hampshire campaign swing this week. "But what about all the other kids who were born on September 26 in 2014 in this country who deserve the same opportunities?"

Not that it's all about policy. In a new epilogue to her book "Hard Choices," Clinton waxes poetic about becoming a grandparent, talking about rushing to the hospital for the birth, helping during the first days and weeks and playing on the floor with Charlotte.

"It's probably the world's best job," Clinton writes. "You get all the happiness of doting on a tiny child as she begins exploring the world, but without the responsibilities or anxieties of being a parent. I love every minute of it."

It's quite a contrast to how Hillary and Bill Clinton dealt with Chelsea when Bill ran for president in 1992. They kept Chelsea in the background for most of the primary season, before the Democratic convention put the shy 12-year-old in the spotlight.

Pollster Geoff Garin, a strategist for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, says becoming a grandmother may help her relate to voters.

"It's a reality in her life that in a lot of ways makes her a more compelling candidate," Garin said. "It's also been a way for her to talk about wanting all children to have great opportunities in life." He expects her to continue to talk about Charlotte "in an organic and a real way."

That could soften Clinton on the trail as she runs a more personal campaign than in 2008, as long as she doesn't overdo it and come across as using her granddaughter as a political prop.

Longtime Clinton supporter Lynn Forester de Rothschild says Charlotte has been a "huge inspiration" for her grandmother. But she also says she expects that Charlotte will be given privacy during the campaign and will be discussed more than seen.

"Anybody who says about Hillary or Chelsea or Mark or Bill that they are using Charlotte in a political way is demented," said Forester de Rothschild. She later added: "Hillary Clinton is talking about what moves her."

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill declined to comment on how Charlotte might be featured in the campaign. So far, the baby girl has largely been a talking point for Clinton. She's not in the campaign announcement video and is mentioned on the campaign website, but without a photo.

Chelsea Clinton has also contributed to the Charlotte chatter. In a recent interview with Elle magazine that the publication previewed online, she called her daughter the "most remarkable little bubbly, perfect, chunky monkey creature ever."

Invoking the young ones is hardly new in campaigns. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin talked about being a "hockey mom" in 2008. Former Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who ran for president in 2012 and may do so in 2016, wrote a book with his wife about their daughter, Bella, who has a genetic disorder. Back in 1992, Sen. Dianne Feinstein ran a campaign ad in which the Democrat held her infant granddaughter in her arms.

"When you say somebody's a grandmother, that word makes somebody more appealing," said Neil Oxman, a Democratic campaign consultant based in Philadelphia. "They're soft, they're not hard."

Oxman knows the political power of an appealing kid. In 2007, he did an ad that helped lift Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to victory in a primary, featuring Nutter's spunky daughter Olivia talking about her dad and attending public school.

The Olivia spot "humanized him," Oxman said. "That just turned it around."