‘Hanging out with my mom’
Chelsea Clinton stays silent onstage but eagerly works the crowd to drum up votes for her mother
NASHUA, N.H.— She is indisputably her mother’s daughter, as they stand stoically side by side, their wary eyes scanning the crowded, cavernous airplane hangar, facing yet another unsettling crisis, another battle in full public view. The younger woman sidles up to the older one and rubs her back affectionately, and suddenly, they blend into a single unit in their brown outfits as they watch their swashbuckling man warm up the crowd, brooking no talk of defeat. “I think my girls look good, don’t you?” Bill Clinton bellows to supporters, beaming back at the women in his life. The crowd explodes. After a few minutes, the former president escorts his 27-year-old daughter, Chelsea, off the stage as his wife takes over a first rally after a disappointing third-place finish in Iowa in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chelsea Clinton never comes near a microphone. The poised only child of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the one accomplishment for which they are never criticized, has finally stepped forward in this presidential campaign, making her debut in front of friendly political crowds. She suddenly appeared in Iowa last month, clearly to soften her mother’s sometimes austere image — and to offer some competing glitz to Barack Obama’s rolling Oprah show.
Tall and striking, she smiles graciously and watches adoringly as her mother speaks, then enthusiastically works the rope line, talking to supporters and posing for cellphone photos.
“You’re beautiful!” a woman shouts from the crowd.
“She’s my greatest source of support next to my husband,” Clinton told People this week. “She’s incredibly smart, got great people skills . . . and lots of good feedback.”
In Iowa, Chelsea warmly embraced an elderly woman who asked for a photograph with her.
“Of course,” she said. “Just tell me where to look.” Then: “I’m just hanging out with my mom today. She’s going to be a great president. You’re going to get everyone you know to caucus for her?”
This is the bland, utterly acceptable chit-chat of the reticent surrogate, and it’s as far as Chelsea seems willing to go. Hers is not a speaking role. Onstage, she doesn’t utter a word, no opinions, no rallying cry, not even a simple welcome. And if anyone resembling a reporter approaches, she flees.
Aides have repeatedly declined requests for interviews with Chelsea. It’s not clear whether it is the parents or the child who is resisting.
“Believe me, we’d love to have her out there,” said a long-time aide. “It’s Chelsea — she won’t do it and her parents respect that.”
Said a long-time friend and adviser of Hillary Clinton, “The feeling is, once you have opened that door, the floodgates open. It never ends.”
From the beginning of their public careers, the Clintons have been very protective of Chelsea, and that early decision has been a saving grace for her, friends say, because the couple has undergone harsher scrutiny than most politicians, through a myriad of scandals and Bill Clinton’s adulterous episodes. During the 1992 presidential campaign, so invisible was the 12-yearold from the requisite campaign photo that polls showed the public didn’t even know the Clintons had a daughter, prompting a cover story on the family in People.
Six years later, after Bill Clinton admitted he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Chelsea was photographed with her parents, holding their hands as they all walked toward the Marine One helicopter.
Hillary Clinton recently said she is in constant contact with her daughter but that she wants “to respect her choices like my mother respected my choices. I’m going to let her life unfold at her pace.”
Chelsea lives in New York these days, where she moved after graduating from Stanford University and receiving a Master’s degree from Oxford University. Two years ago, she left a job at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to join Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund management firm. She has a serious boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky, the son of former Iowa representative Edward Mezvinsky and Marjorie MargoliesMezvinsky, a former member of Congress from Pennsylvania.
By all accounts, the privacy the Clintons afforded their child provided her with the semblance of a normal life. She is described as warm and smart and friendly.
Chelsea has been a scarce commodity during this campaign compared with 2000, when she regularly campaigned with her mother during her U.S. Senate bid. Last month, with little fanfare, she suddenly appeared in Iowa, conveniently on the same weekend megastar Oprah Winfrey was barnstorming for Obama.
Chelsea was onstage in Iowa last Thursday night, maintaining a bright smile as her mother spoke to supporters after her stinging thirdplace finish at the caucuses there. Then she was back Friday at her mother’s first campaign stop in New Hampshire. After Hillary Clinton finished her speech, Chelsea lunged toward the rope lines, dividing the crowd with her parents. She posed for pictures, asked for votes and autographed signs.
“She thanked us for volunteering,” said James Howell, who came from Connecticut to help out. “And she said, ‘Be sure and vote for my mom.’ ”