Posted: Feb. 4, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Chelsea Clinton spent Monday morning in Delaware. Once upon a time -- oh, say, about five days ago --  it would have been a heckuva political splash.

The former first daughter is third on the campaign depth chart -- behind Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. The other side, meanwhile, trumped her appearance by sending in Barack Obama on Super Bowl Sunday and Michelle Obama last Thursday.

All right, so the Obama campaign did not come up with Oprah or Teddy, but the candidate and his wife were still a very big deal.

Michelle Obama spoke to more than 2,000 people, Barack Obama something like 20,000, and Chelsea Clinton brought upwards of 300 people to her stop at a student center on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

Clinton's event was announced only the day before. It was a hurry-up stopgap to try to keep Delaware Democrats from streaming toward Obama in their presidential primary on Tuesday.

This is a state that likes to vote for candidates who come here.

With the Democrats dividing up delegates based on the proportional share of the vote, Hillary Clinton could lose the state to Obama and the bragging rights but still add to her delegate total. Delaware has 23 delegates -- 16 to be decided by the primary plus automatic slots for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, U.S. Sens. Joe Biden and Tom Carper, and four party leaders.

"I think the Clinton people are responding late, trying to save something. This is a top surrogate," said Joe Pika, a political science professor at the university.

Karen Valentine, the Democratic national committeewoman who has endorsed Clinton, insisted that Chelsea Clinton's appearance would have an effect.

"I don't think it's too little too late. Any attention is good," Valentine said. "Bill Clinton was scheduled but had to be canceled at the last minute. They didn't forget us. They just had trouble scheduling."

Give Chelsea Clinton credit. Barack and Michelle Obama did political stand-up when they were here, making speeches without taking questions. It was grand political theatre, but it was theatre. In comparison, Clinton gave no prepared remarks and instead fielded questions for 45 minutes at an event that was open to anyone. It attracted mostly students but others, as well.

"I'm here to talk about my mom," Clinton said. "I'm convinced that she's the president I need for my future and for the grandkids I'm sure she hopes someday I'll have." That got a laugh.

Clinton, a poised 27-year-old who works at a hedge fund in New York, handled about 15 questions, some more belligerent than others, on domestic policy and foreign policy, mostly about the Iraq war, and also some personal questions.

There actually was a lot of curiosity about Clinton herself. After she spoke, she was swarmed by a youthful crowd wanting photos on their cell phones and digital cameras.

Clinton parried a somewhat aggressive question about whether she had thought about joining the military. "Yes, absolutely, but I decided to go to Stanford, I chose a different path," she said.

She also noted wryly she often was asked whether she wanted to get back her "old room" in the White House.

"I'm 27. I'm not going to move back in with my parents."

Someone brought along a life-size cutout of Hillary Clinton. Chelsea Clinton noticed it and seemed grateful for the reminder. For the moment a cardboard Hillary would have to do -- for Chelsea and for Delaware.