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Striking populist tone, Clinton makes case for presidency

Hillary Clinton promised a wide range of changes to create a more inclusive America.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

NEW YORK — Promising a more hopeful, inclusive America ready to take on the big challenges facing it, Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday that she wants to be the champion the nation needs as well as its first female president.

Speaking before thousands, Clinton blended her work as an advocate for children and families with pledges to give people a fairer bargain on a range of issues, including how taxes are levied, voting is conducted, and immigration is managed. She took shots at her would-be Republican rivals and the very wealthy — a group Clinton is a member of and one she will count on to help fund a campaign that aims to raise more than $1 billion.


‘‘Prosperity can’t be just for CEOs and hedge-fund managers,’’ Clinton said in an address on Roosevelt Island. ‘‘Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain, too. You brought our country back. Now it’s time — your time — to secure the gains and move ahead.’’

Clinton entered the 2016 race in April but waited two months to frame her populist-flavored agenda and explicitly ask for the nation’s vote. On Saturday, she sought to provide a rationale for her candidacy, saying she is running for ‘‘everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out.’’

That line served as both a reference to the economic circumstances of many Americans since the Great Recession as well as to her own disappointing White House run in 2008.

Clinton was looser than she often appeared during that campaign, smiling and pausing from time to time to absorb the applause from a crowd the campaign estimated at over 5,000.

She got her loudest applause with a grinning reference to the many ways she would be a different kind of president. ‘‘I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States,’’ she said. ‘‘And the first grandmother as well.’’


Clinton jeeringly referred to what she called the false promise of Republicans that ‘‘if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.’’

She did not mention any Republican opponents by name and said nothing about the smaller field of Democratic challengers. But in a series of attacks that drew applause from the crowd, Clinton hit Republicans for wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, deport immigrants, and take away ‘‘reproductive-health decisions.’’ Clinton said Republicans ‘‘turn their backs on gay people who love each other.’’ And on climate change, she said: ‘‘Ask many of these candidates about climate change, one of the defining threats of our time, and they'll say: ‘I'm not a scientist.’ Well, then, why don’t they start listening to those who are?’’

As president, Clinton said she would reward businesses for long-term investments. She promised to restore America’s position of being on the cutting edge of innovation, science, and research by increasing public as well as private investments. And she pledged to improve preschool options, make college affordable, and rebuild decaying infrastructure. Policy details will be rolled out in coming weeks, she said.

The speech’s setting was a nod to both Clinton’s adopted home state, which she represented in the Senate for eight years, and the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ethos that America should be free from want and fear.


‘‘President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered,’’ Clinton said. ‘‘It’s America’s basic bargain: If you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead, too.’’

That idea of a can-do, all-in-this-together society, with a government that provides and protects, is a startling embrace of the kind of Roosevelt-flavored big government many recent Democrats, including Bill Clinton, have avoided.

That suggests Clinton thinks she can win by appealing to her own party’s most progressive wing as well as to others who feel left behind in an economy where the gap between rich and poor has grown much wider than when her husband was in the White House in the 1990s. It also suggests that Clinton thinks she can overcome her own perceived coziness with Wall Street titans, which has caused some ambivalence among progressives.

After the speech, she flew to Iowa, the start of a swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, other early primary states.