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Schultz: Hillary needs to reintroduce herself

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 9:57 p.m. CDT

To help you understand why the term “lock step” is seldom used to describe Democrats, let me walk you through a typical political event in my home state of Ohio.

If you follow presidential politics, you may know Ohio by its nickname: The Battleground State You Gotta Win to Take the White House.

We answer to either name.

So, walk with me here in Ohio.

Here we are, approaching one of those fabled big tents into which organizers are herding, as best they can, rank-and-file Democrats. As with so many Democratic events, it’s a mixed crowd, from high-end donors who prefer their martinis to be shaken, never stirred, to union workers who buy whatever beer is on sale and raise their children to think that every lullaby was written by either Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. (Perhaps that was only my parents.)

A few Bruce Springsteen songs blast from sky-high amplifiers to kick up the mood before a local somebody in the Democratic Party steps onstage. Inevitably, we have to wait a few minutes for this speaker to stop messing with the microphone and filling the air with that head-splitting feedback sound. Typically, this goes on until a small child in the crowd slaps her hands over her ears and screams, “Make it stop!”

Finally, we settle down to a soft roar as the speaker signals an intention to address us.

Now, to mix it up a little, let’s imagine this speaker telling everyone here – telling, not asking – whom we’re all going to vote for.

I laugh at the thought. This would never happen, because that’s not how we roll as Democrats. Regardless of your past successes or your current job title, you have to earn the support of the rank and file, every single time.

Which brings me to the current flurry of fundraising activity for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, some Democrats are starting to worry that the machine revving up for Clinton for President is peeling off donors who would have contributed to this year’s Senate races. This could threaten the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.

This fuels the worst narrative about Clinton: That she cares only about herself.

It also telegraphs a vibe of presumptive nomination, which is not going to fly here in Ohio. Most Democrats here are in no mood for a coronation – just like most of the country, I suspect.

This is not to suggest there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidency. There are plenty of Democrats who want Clinton to declare her candidacy yesterday.

Equally vocal are the over-my-dead-body Democrats who recoil at even the hint of another White House dynasty. They’re a smaller group, it seems, but they sure are loud.

There’s yet another group of Democrats, and these are the ones who have to be won over. They respect Clinton and may even feel a proprietary pride in her accomplishments as secretary of state, but the doubt lingers. They wonder whether their Hillary is still one of them.

Last month, Clinton admitted during a speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association that she has not driven a car since 1996. There are good security reasons for that, but it was a tone-deaf joke for any Democrat to make. Because it was Clinton, it rivaled hurricane coverage in scope.

I like Hillary Clinton, and I hope she runs. Later, after the midterm elections.

In the meantime, she could reacquaint herself with the voters she’s going to need to win, one town at a time.

My unsolicited advice: Hit the road, Hillary. Reintroduce yourself to the people who knew you when. Give them a chance to welcome you home.

• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Reach her at con.schultz@yahoo.com.

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