For Clinton, A Changing Approach To Campaign Humor

This story was written by Emily Schultheis, Daily Pennsylvanian
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton looked somber following her speech at the AFL-CIO convention last week.

"We need to do something so that our party and our people can make the right decision," she said.

The reporters in the room looked around eagerly and uncomfortably, wondering where this speech was leading.

But then Clinton announced that she challenged Barack Obama to a bowl-off for the Democratic nomination.

Journalists and photographers smiled. This woman is actually funny.

But for a long time, Clinton seemed unable to poke fun at herself -- something Obama has done with much less effort throughout the primary season.

It seems that her gradual inclusion of humor in speeches and campaign events has made Clinton more personable -- and more human.

But her speech at the AFL-CIO convention wasn't the first time Clinton was genuinely funny.

"Do I really laugh like that?" Clinton said to Amy Poehler, who played her in a sketch on Saturday Night Live the weekend before the Ohio and Texas primaries in March. When Poehler shrugged in affirmation, Clinton smiled, saying, "Eh, yeah, OK."

It was the most comfortable Clinton had looked in months.

She didn't even attempt humor when Gov. Ed Rendell endorsed her in January. Compared to the numerous speeches she's given throughout the primary season, the ease she exuded on the set of SNL was uncharacteristic.

This is not to say that Clinton is unable to speak eloquently about the issues. At a speech about the Iraq war in City Hall last month, Clinton held her own while answering numerous questions from the press about Obama's race speech and the Rev. Wright controversy.

Still, though Clinton has generally seemed unable to poke fun at herself, she subjected herself to mockery from "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart the night before the Ohio and Texas primaries.

"Tomorrow is perhaps one of the most important days of your life," Stewart said on the show, "and yet, you have chosen to spend the night before ... talking to ME."

Clinton smiled. "It is pretty pathetic," she said.

Stewart laughed out loud.

And despite Clinton's lag in the polls in the days leading up to Ohio and Texas, she won Ohio handily and took the Texas primary by a narrow margin -- a win that came after a concerted effort by the Clinton campaign to make Hillary appear more comfortable and personable.

The question now, however, is whether her jokes can help her keep her narrowing lead here in Pennsylvania.

Some lines, like the opening of her speech at the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia -- "Is labor in the house?!" -- are bound to fall flat.

But others, like the bowl-off joke and TV appearances, could pull some weight with voters, particularly young voters, in the election.

Journalists laughed when Clinton finally broke a smile during her bowl-off speech.

"We don't have a moment to spare, because it's already April Fool's Day," she quipped.

Since then, pundits have said Clinton's attempts at humor have allowed voters to see a different side of the candidate.

Whether that's enough of a push to give Clinton a much-needed victory at the polls next Tuesday is still unclear -- but at least Clinton has made it clear that she would be "a president who's ready to bowl on day one."
© 2008 Daily Pennsylvanian via U-WIRE