Hillary Clinton on Saturday told struggling Americans “it’s time” for them to share in the country’s economic recovery and recalled a personal history she said inspired a lifetime of service for the disenfranchised in her first major speech since launching her presidential campaign.
“You brought our country back, now it’s time, your time, to secure the gains and move ahead,” Clinton said at the rally held on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. “And you know what? American can’t succeed unless you succeed. That is why I am running for president of the United States.”
Clinton, who announced her candidacy in an online video in April, used the rally to detail a progressive platform focused on working-class Americans who continue to struggle, even as the country's economic outlook has improved.
The rally’s location, an island located between Manhattan and Queens, was rich in symbolism meant to highlight Clinton’s long career in public service. She served as a senator from New York for eight years and the United Nations, where she frequently represented the U.S. as secretary of state, could be seen behind her as she spoke Saturday.
She also said she was happy to formally launch her campaign “in a place with absolutely no ceilings,” one of many references to the historic nature of her bid to become the nation’s first female president.
Clinton laid out the “four fights” her campaign would focus on in the park that commemorates the “Four Freedoms” President Franklin Roosevelt talked about in his 1941 State of the Union address. Clinton’s fights included a number of progressive proposals meant to help middle and lower class workers, protecting the country from threats abroad and reforming government.
The main thrust of the speech, though, was economic policies aimed at providing relief for the middle class and social issues she said her Republican opponents are out of touch with. She advocated for paid family leave, universal pre-school and raising the minimum wage.
Her Republican opponents, Clinton argued, are behind on social issues like gay marriage, deny climate change, and favor economic policies that benefit the wealthiest Americans.
“There may be some new voices in the presidential Republican choir, but they’re all singing the same old song,” Clinton said. “A song called ‘Yesterday.’”
Until now, Clinton's campaign has been mostly composed of closely guarded events in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Saturday's rally was aimed at reintroducing the well-known Democrat to voters and explain why she is running for president again -- something political observers say she never did in her previous run.
The Democratic frontrunner highlighted her career as a crusader for the disenfranchised. Her campaign released a video titled "Fighter" in the lead up to the speech that focused on her work on behalf of children, women, workers cleaning up the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and families at the State Department.
That fight, Clinton said, was instilled in her by her mother, Dorothy Rodham. Rodham was abandoned by her parents at a young age, only to be sent to live with strict relatives that pushed her to decide to run away at 14. She ultimately made it to Chicago where she married and raised Clinton and her two brothers.
“My mother taught me that everyone needs a chance and a champion,” Clinton said.
But Clinton's opponents have attempted to paint her as out of touch with the very people she is trying to stand up for. Both Republicans and her Democratic rivals have made Clinton's wealth a major issue in the beginning months of the campaign. That, along with controversies surrounding donations to the Clinton Foundation and her use of a personal email server while secretary of state, have taken a toll on her support.
Staffers from the Republican National Committee handed out sunglasses imprinted with the word “#Shady” to the thousands of attendees.
“Hillary Clinton’s announcement speech was chock full of hypocritical attacks, partisan rhetoric and ideas from the past that have led to a sluggish economy leaving too many Americans behind,” RNC press secretary Allison Moore said. “Next year, Americans will reject the failed policies of the past and elect a Republican president.”
Clinton's team hopes the rally will refocus the campaign on the progressive policy ideas she has talked about in her recent travels. She has so far embraced progressive ideas much more so than her 2008 campaign. Last month she vowed to take President Barack Obama's immigration actions even further if Congress fails to pass comprehensive reform.
After the rally, Clinton will head to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, where she is expected to build on the themes she introduced in New York.