Clinton Selling Her Softer Side

From CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Jim Axelrod, who's covering the Clinton campaign:

JOHNSTON, IOWA -- It's 17 days from the Iowa caucuses and Hillary Clinton is making the hard-sell on her soft-side.

Today in Johnston, Iowa, three people offered their personal testimony about the difference Hillary Clinton had made in their lives. Jeff Volk - a New Yorker who called on Senator Clinton when he and his family were trapped in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Shannon Mallozzi - who went to Hillary Clinton when she was overwhelmed caring for her sick daughter. Betsy Ebeling - Hillary's best friend from growing up. Seeking to counter impressions of a cold, divisive, sanctimonious Hillary Clinton, they all shared their view of a warm, merciful, compassionate woman in stories that clearly moved them. Shannon Mallozzi spoke for all of them, saying, "I wanted to let you know the Hillary I know."

The most striking part of the appearance wasn't that Hillary Clinton had people to stand up for her. It would be news if she didn't. The most striking part was that despite the crowd being moved by the accounts of Clinton's care -- the Senator didn't seem to be able to make much of that energy. Hillary Clinton may be steeped in policy, but she still seems challenged by closing the deal emotionally with many of the Iowans who come out to see her.

There are plenty reports of raucous receptions for both Barack Obama and John Edwards as they criss-cross this coveted state. Whether or not these accounts are inflated is a different story. But this is quite literally one of the most famous women in the world, and the polite reception she's consistently met with is both palpable and telling. Her supporters are connected to her, and undecided voters listen respectfully and attentively - applauding at parts of her stump speech that resonate with them. But the applause often seems to come out of sense of obligation, and at the end of her speech, while some approach the stage to meet her, many look quickly for the nearest exit. The connection Hillary Clinton makes seem to be more head than heart.

At the end of the day --- this may not matter one bit. They're not running for "rock star," they are running for president. Four years ago, John Kerry was routinely taken over the coals for being "aloof." He was also ultimately judged to be the most "electable" of all the candidates, won the caucuses, and wrapped up the nomination in a matter of weeks. But in the small towns of Iowa that will help determine the first victor in the nominating process, the response to Senator Clinton can be described a lot of ways - but passionate isn't the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it's not even in the top ten.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.