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'We Are Better Than That': Clinton Sees An Opening In Voters Turned Off By Trump

Hillary Clinton waves to the crowd after speaking at The Ohio State University on Monday. It was her largest crowd of the entire campaign.
Maddie McGarvey
Getty Images
Hillary Clinton waves to the crowd after speaking at The Ohio State University on Monday. It was her largest crowd of the entire campaign.

Hillary Clinton, who has long been public enemy No. 1 for many in the Republican Party, is now making a direct appeal to Republican and independent voters turned off by Donald Trump.

For months, her campaign has been courting these voters, but as Clinton and her team see it, the events of the past week have given them a much wider opening. Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is in open warfare with members of his own party and is still reeling from the release of a 2005 video where he boasted about groping women.

Just as some voters may be giving her a first look, Clinton is out with a new middle-class tax proposal that includes policies that in the past have been endorsed by Republicans. She wants to double the child tax credit for families with young children, make more of the credit refundable and expand tax relief for low-income workers who don't have children.

And her campaign is up on the air in key swing states with a series of four testimonial ads featuring Republicans talking about why they are voting for Clinton.

Since the start of her general election campaign, Clinton has portrayed the race against Trump as more than just another partisan battle. She hasn't lumped all Republicans in with Trump, and often talks about wanting to the president for all Americans, including those who don't support her.

Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri describes the race as a "really difficult reckoning" for the country.

"It's a very existential choice about what kind of country you believe America is and want to live in," Palmieri said.

As Clinton spoke to her biggest crowd of the entire campaign Monday night at The Ohio State University, she presented it as a moral choice.

"It may be who he is. But this election is our chance to show who we are," Clinton said. "We are better than that. We are bigger than that. And I want to send a message to every boy and girl, every man and woman in our country, indeed the entire world, that that is not who America is."

For much of the summer, Clinton's speeches and television ads were overwhelmingly critical of Trump. But just as he has taken his attacks on her to a new level, she is trying to push forward a more uplifting message, saying she wants to give people something to vote for, not just someone to vote against.

In part this may be an effort to prevent the nastiness of the campaign from depressing turnout. Coming off that intense and ugly debate, in which each candidate attacked the other, Clinton tried to offer a balm to supporters gathered at Wayne State University in Detroit.

"I know there's been a lot of negativity. And it's easy to get cynical about politics," Clinton said. "But I'll tell you what, that's what the other side wants you to feel. They want you to just say, 'well, I'm not going to vote because, you know, it's so nasty.' That's the main reason to vote."

With election day exactly four weeks away, Trump is playing to his base. His debate performance, freewheeling speeches and tweets taunting establishment Republicans are all aimed at his most devoted supporters.

At the same time, Clinton is trying to expand beyond her base. Recent polls show her lead over Trump growing, though aides caution the race is likely to tighten again. It seems Clinton is trying not just to win, but to win more convincingly than she may have thought was possible even a few days ago.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.