As the daughter of a former president, Chelsea Clinton has long been in the public spotlight. Now campaigning to become the daughter of a future president, the 27-year-old Stanford graduate is finally ready for her close-up.
In a move that might have been considered unusual even a few months ago, the extremely private Chelsea spent all day Friday stumping for her mother, Hillary Clinton (who participated in MTV/MySpace’s “Closing Arguments” Presidential Dialogue on Saturday), in the land of 441 delegates: the hotly contested battleground state of California.
Given the extraordinary amount of effort that went into shielding Chelsea from the press during her adolescent years — when she lived at the country’s most famous address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — it was all the more surprising when MTV News was extended an invitation to spend the day with the former first daughter and follow her as she trekked across the Golden State, telling college students why she thinks her mom should be the next president of the United States.
From shaking hands and taking photos on the rope line at California State University in Dominguez Hills to answering personal questions with steely resolve in a town-hall meeting at Santa Barbara City College, the Chelsea that emerged was one of contrasts, seamlessly appropriating well-known attributes from both President and Senator Clinton. In the end, there’s little doubt: Chelsea is definitely her parents’ child.
And that’s just the way she wants it.
“There’s no one that I love more, that I respect more,” a smiling Clinton said of her mother during the day’s second stop in Santa Barbara. “She makes the best applesauce. She reads to me still when I don’t feel well. I’ve never doubted that I’m the most important person in the world to her.”
Up until a few weeks ago, Chelsea could be found only on the sidelines, smiling politely and clapping enthusiastically for one or both of her parents as they stood center stage. Nowadays she ventures out more and more on her own, traveling with just a few aides, many of whom are her close friends.
At Cal State she was also joined by joined by actresses America Ferrera (better known as Ugly Betty) and Amber Tamblyn. All three wore jeans and “Team Hillary” baseball jerseys emblazoned with the number “44”; should Senator Clinton win in November, she’d become the nation’s 44th president.
“You need only to look to [Senator Clinton’s] incredible daughter to see the values that she’s instilled in her about appreciating the education and the life she was given, not taking those things for granted,” Ferrera told MTV News. “[Chelsea’s] one of the most extraordinary young people I’ve ever been able to meet.”
As difficult as it may have once been for the young Chelsea to separate herself from the Clinton publicity machine, she now seems to be thrusting herself into the spotlight with equal force. Not once throughout the day did she refer to her mother by her first name — or even with a nondescript appellation like “the candidate.” Instead, she would frequently repeat audience questions, always personalizing the answer with a “mom.” “What would my mom do? What does Mom think?”
“We want to continue being a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” she told the heavily Latino crowd at Cal State.
When another student expressed concern about voting “the Clintons” back into the White House, Chelsea responded sharply, “You’re not voting for the Clintons. You’re voting for my mother.”
It was a refrain often repeated throughout the day, but one tempered and balanced by an astute awareness and knowledge of seemingly every plank in her mother’s platform, from immigration to gay rights, from affordable college tuition to health care. This was not just a child asking you to vote for her mother (although it was certainly that, too), but a smart, articulate speaker stumping for a candidate.
Although not a politician herself — and she told the audience in Santa Barbara that she never will be — Chelsea attacked questions with a politician’s resolve, never losing focus and never missing the chance to make a point, even when, in the day’s oddest moment, a student dressed as the Cal State mascot (a bull), asked her about gay rights.
Chelsea gave a multifaceted answer that listed four points Hillary would act upon, including ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” and stopping discrimination in the tax code.
When not campaigning, Chelsea lives a relatively anonymous life in New York, working for a hedge fund. She’s committed to remaining a private person: Despite our invitation, we weren’t permitted to ask her any questions. Her aides were particularly fond of our videographer’s aptness at keeping his distance since, believe it or not, the former first daughter is still getting used to having cameras around. (Though at one point she told him how helpful his camera light was at illuminating a particularly dark path she was navigating.)
Backstage, Chelsea is open and warm: introducing herself to strangers, quick to give hugs, and, when interrupted by a person she hasn’t called upon, she’s quick to say, “No, not you. I’ll get to you next.” She seems to relish the hundreds of encounters she’s having each day on the campaign trail.
“She’s not shy,” as one press aide put it.
One particularly important issue to her, Chelsea told the 150 or so people gathered in Santa Barbara, is the difficulty students face in paying for the rapidly rising cost of college tuition, which has driven a lot of her own friends to “make choices based on even servicing their debt,” she said, “much less even paying it down.” Her mother, by contrast, was able to work for the non-profit — and thus lower paying — Children’s Defense Fund when she graduated from law school in 1973.
Overall, the performance was all the more extraordinary, given that very little was hitherto known about the former first daughter, evidenced by a question from a particularly ambitious student.
“Two questions,” he asked. “One, are you single? And, two, do you want to come check out ’Rambo 5′ with me tonight, baby?”
“That’s the first date I’ve been asked on on this tour,” Chelsea calmly responded. “No, I’m not single, and I think that answers your second question.”
An answer for every question — like mother, like daughter …
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