Gone are the soaring speeches and large rallies. Instead, Clinton plans to appear with a handful of voters at less-scripted gatherings at coffee shops and in living rooms that will allow her to speak to individual voters, according to those knowledgeable about her plans but not authorized to speak publicly.
The strategy underscores the need for the former first lady, senator and secretary of state to relate to lower- and middle-class families after years of being criticized as an out-of-touch Washington insider garnering hefty paychecks for her speeches and tied to the nation’s biggest corporations.
Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who’s close to the Clintons, said the small settings will give Hillary Clinton the opportunity to focus on certain issues that individual voters care about. “You can demonstrate humanity and concern for people,” he said.
Clinton is expected to formally enter the race Sunday in a video before traveling to Iowa, a critical swing state where she finished a humiliating third place in the 2008 caucus. Officials in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina said that the events in those states were still being finalized.
Clinton’s office declined to comment on her plans.
But in a recent cover story in Town & Country magazine, former President Bill Clinton acknowledged that his wife needed to speak directly to people if she decides to run.
“I think it’s important and Hillary does, too, that she go out there as if she’s never run for anything before and establish her connection with the voters,” he said.
Before she ran for the Senate for the first time, then-first lady Clinton embarked on a similar “listening tour” across the state of New York in 1999.
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, said the circumstances at the start of the two campaigns are very different.
“Last time, she was trying to prove herself,” he said. “This time the need is to connect with voters, show shared values.”
That may prove challenging. Clinton, who often travels in motorcades surrounded by an entourage, frequently finds herself physically removed from the crowds and the hordes of reporters who follow her.
“They’re playing it safe because they want a coronation, not a competition,” said Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “If Hillary Clinton’s team were confident in her candidacy, then they would not want to limit public and media access to her.”
Clinton’s low-key announcement will contrast with Republican candidates fighting for name recognition who have engaged in well-crafted events designed to illustrate their values and backgrounds.
Two Republicans – Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky – gave speeches in front of large crowds. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is expected to announce Monday at Freedom Tower, a facility in downtown Miami that was once used to process Cuban refugees.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said aides are trying to accommodate thousands of people from across the nation who want to be a part of the announcement.
“At the end of the day, it’s not the size of your event that matters most,” he said. “It’s the quality of your ideas and your vision for a new American century.”
Clinton entered the 2008 race with a video, released in January 2007 and timed to come just before President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, as a way to draw a contrast with the administration. But her first campaign event was a massive town hall meeting at an Iowa high school.
Despite being the favorite, Clinton went on to lose the nomination to Barack Obama. (He launched his campaign in traditional fashion, with a speech framing his message before thousands in front of the Old State Capitol in Illinois, where Lincoln spoke.)
Clinton’s new strategy suggests she isn’t taking anything for granted this time.
“She’s talking with voters instead of talking at voters,” said Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic activist who was a Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire in 2008. “It’s a rare opportunity for a candidate to actually talk to people. That is what it’s all about.”
Clinton leads by wide margins over her possible Democratic rivals, though she has seen her numbers dip amid ethical questions about her family foundation’s acceptance of foreign donations and her use of a private email account to conduct government business while secretary of state.
Supporters in early states have been urging her to announce her candidacy soon to confront the accusations. But others who are close to Clinton say she wanted to delay the announcement as long as possible. Her timetable was not moved up or back because of the barrage of negative publicity, said those familiar with her plans.
Others considering a run for the Democratic nomination are independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb or Virginia and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
When she ran last time, Clinton avoided talking about her personal experiences, especially those as a woman, saying that she was running because she was the best-qualified candidate. But this time, in smaller venues, Clinton is expected to share more personal anecdotes and focus on issues that might appeal to lower- and middle-class voters, including affordable child care and access to health care.
Clinton published a new epilogue Friday from her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices” on the Huffington Post, previewing issues that she will likely focus on while campaigning in personal terms.
“Becoming a grandmother has made me think deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world we inherit and will one day pass on,” Clinton wrote. “Rather than make me want to slow down, it has spurred me to speed up.”