Chelsea Finds Her Voice

Her mother found her voice in New Hampshire, and Chelsea Clinton, dubbed "mute Chelsea" by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for her almost always silent appearances alongside her political parents, has finally found hers too. After 16 years of trying to stay out of the public spotlight, the youngest Clinton has decided to step into it and become a surrogate for her mother on the campaign trail.

The choice was Chelsea's, says a campaign adviser. After watching Barack Obama win the youth vote overwhelmingly in early primary states, she decided that she would take her mother's message to those close to her in age--the college students. She started with a few solo events between the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses, campaigning with Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, and then really ramped up her efforts after her mother's loss to Obama in South Carolina.

The morning after South Carolina, she set out on a 440-mile road trip through Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. She's since campaigned in 15 Super Tuesday states and at more than a dozen colleges and universities, traveling mostly commercially by plane, train, and automobile. She's been to 20 states overall.

"Chelsea really wants to help people get to know Senator Clinton the way she has--as both her mother and her inspiration," Philippe Reines, senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, says. "She's the only person in the world who can start a sentence about Hillary Clinton with...'My mom.' "

At her events, she doesn't give a speech. She normally talks for a few minutes and then answers audience members' questions. "We want to make sure that young people feel like the campaign is talking about issues that you care about and is delivering its plans and ideas in a way that resonates with you," she told about 100 young women who gathered to hear her speak in January at Stanford, her alma mater, according to the Stanford Daily.

It's an effective way to get attention and perhaps draw young people in, says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

"Though it could be at a cost to Chelsea Clinton," he adds.

For the first time, Clinton is really putting herself out there publicly, though she has grown up quite a bit since leaving the White House. Now 27, she holds degrees from both Stanford and Oxford. She received a makeover courtesy of Donatella Versace in 2002 and has looked sophisticated and stylish since. She's a legitimate New Yorker, living in the Manhattan neighborhood bearing her name and working for the Avenue Capital Group, a New York hedge fund. She told students at Clark University that she would not be moving back into the White House if her mother were elected. "I have my own life in New York," she explained.

But she's given up her New York life for now and traded it in for a grueling campaign schedule, running into a few bumps along the way. One of the several appearances she made at Stanford created some controversy by catering to a sorority. An editorial in the Stanford Daily criticized Clinton for the "limited invitation policy."

"...On Sunday Chelsea sought 'accessibility' for her mother's campaign at a private event that, ten years ago, then-student Chelsea Clinton would not have been invited to attend," the staff editorial read, reminding readers that Clinton had never been a sorority sister herself. Clinton had also hosted an open round-table event at Stanford.

Reines says the criticism was unwarranted. "Chelsea has appeared in dozens of venues in 20 states and has answered hundreds of questions before thousands and thousands of people," he says. "She's trying to reach as many people--especially young ones--as possible."

Clinton also had to deal with a crowd of rowdy Ron Paul supporters chanting outside her event in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Clinton went outside the coffee shop and invited them in When they declined she asked them to be quiet.

And while Clinton will spend hours and hours answering the questions of voters, she still won't answer those posed directly from reporters. When 9-year-old Scholastic News reporter Sydney Rieckhoff asked her at the end of December if her father would make a good first man, she said she couldn't talk to the press. Now that, a month later, she has become even more of a public figure, this is one characteristic of "mute Chelsea" that will remain.

By Nikki Schwab