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As Campaign Ramps Up, Clinton Courts Obama Coalition Voters


Hillary Clinton wants to make it easier for people to vote. She spoke yesterday in Texas, a state that has seen its share of fights over how and where people can vote. Clinton called for a number of policies, including expanding early voting. She wants in-person voting to be available at least 20 days before Election Day, and she went even further.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I'm calling for universal automatic voter registration - every citizen in every state in the union.


SHAPIRO: This is the latest example of policies Clinton is rolling out in the ramp-up phase of her campaign. NPR's Tamara Keith reports it's also part of an effort that seems aimed at winning over voters who make up what's known as the Obama coalition.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton went to Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston, to receive a leadership award and to talk about this.


CLINTON: What is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to the other.


KEITH: Clinton blasted Republicans, several of whom are running for president, for efforts in some states to shorten early voting periods and require specific forms of identification.


CLINTON: What part of democracy are they afraid of?

KEITH: The Republican National Committee responded, calling Clinton's rhetoric misleading and divisive. Clinton's proposals on voting rights come on the heels of other policy statements in this early phase of her campaign - on the criminal justice system, immigration and equal pay for women. These issues don't rank high in public polls, but they are important to a group of voters Clinton needs if she wants to win the White House - the so-called Obama coalition. Young people, single women, Hispanics, African-American voters - they showed up in 2008 and 2012 in big ways for Obama. The outstanding question for Democrats is when Barack Obama isn't on the ballot, will they show up? Cornell Belcher is a pollster who worked on Obama's campaigns.

CORNELL BELCHER: We still are grappling with the ideal that this historical electorate that elected President Obama twice, a large swath of those voters - especially those millennials and those black and brown voters who had never been part of the process before - they're not Democratic voters. They're Obama voters.

KEITH: And so Clinton has to appeal directly to these voters to try to get them excited about her candidacy, says Democratic strategist Jose Dante Para with the firm Prospero Latino.

JOSE DANTE PARA: Hillary definitely needs to not just win these votes, but win them convincingly.

KEITH: An early success, Para says, was her meeting in Las Vegas with young Latino activists known as dreamers. Clinton told them she wouldn't just defend President Obama's executive actions on immigration. She'd go further.

PARA: It definitely shows that she is not just doing this to check the box. And when you start talking about an issue early on and frequently and consistently, that gives voters the confidence that the candidate means it.

KEITH: To Republican strategist Ron Christie, it's all a little too targeted.

RON CHRISTIE: I think what she's doing right now is very calculated.

KEITH: He thinks it could work well in the Democratic primary, but will prove shortsighted.

CHRISTIE: You can build the biggest coalition of a certain demographic, but is that really going to thread the needle with independents and potential Republican crossover voters in the general should she win the nomination? I think it's a strategy that's fraught with peril.

KEITH: Clinton campaign aides don't seem all that concerned. They argue she's in line with democratic orthodoxy and in line with the views of a majority of Americans. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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