New York Times
August 11, 2000

Mrs. Clinton Puts Agenda Before Jokes


BURBANK, CALIF. (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton brought her campaign for the Senate to the hills of Los Angeles this evening, starting three days of California campaigning with an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, a way-out-of-town swing that will end with a prime-time speech to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles Monday evening.

For nearly 20 minutes, Mr. Leno and Mrs. Clinton gently bantered, presented dueling satirical videos, and discussed the unlikely scene of one of the recurrent targets of Mr. Leno's humor sitting at his side.

"It is hard to imagine," Mrs. Clinton agreed, as Mr. Leno recalled, with exaggerated discomfort, how much fun he had had at the expense of President and Mrs. Clinton and their marriage. And then, with a wave of the hand and a broad grin, she said: "Here I am!"

Still, it appeared that humor was not at the top of the first lady's agenda, as she often steered the conversation to more serious subjects, talking about why she was running for Senate and offering warm anecdotes of her travels across New York, as she provided the national audience -- presumably including millions of New Yorkers -- a refrain of many of the things she has been saying during her campaign appearances.

Indeed, her often purposeful demeanor was a reminder that her appearance tonight, like the rest of her busy weekend here, was directed almost entirely at boosting her campaign in New York. She headed right for Mr. Leno's show after landing at Los Angeles International Airport, and her schedule over the next three days is as busy as if she were in the state where she is running for office: two fund-raisers on her own behalf; drop-ins at a half-dozen breakfasts and forums; meetings with celebrities and supporters; and most important, her aides believe, her Monday night address at the convention, the same night President Clinton will speak.

As a number of Democrats have noted in recent days, Mrs. Clinton has set up a more high-profile schedule for herself than Al Gore, who will be, presumably, the focus of attention of the presidential nominating convention. But the more apt comparison may be to her opponent, Representative Rick A. Lazio, and what he did -- or rather did not do -- at the Philadelphia convention last week.

Mr. Lazio spent less than a day in Philadelphia. He turned down what would have been a fleeting speaking appearance, and participated in no official convention events. Mr. Lazio's advisers said that he had concluded that there was no political gain for him in spending time in Philadelphia, and it might risk getting his campaign too closely identified with Republican politics.

Mrs. Clinton's advisers reached the almost opposite conclusion. To be sure, considering the fact that this will be her husband's last convention as a sitting president, Mrs. Clinton would have to make an appearance, even if brief and relatively low-profile.

But Mrs. Clinton's visit here is neither brief nor low-profile.

The Leno appearance tonight and the speech on Monday serve as nationally televised bookends to a weekend that will include visits to Democrats and their supporters, as well as fund-raising.

Mr. Lazio's aides argued that Mrs. Clinton's identification with a national convention could only serve to remind voters that she comes from outside New York and may hold ambitions that go beyond the Senate.

But Mrs. Clinton's advisers rejected that argument, saying that it was outweighed by the benefit of having a national audience, including a large New York one, for her campaign message -- mostly unfiltered.

This was actually her second stop on the late-night circuit; on Jan. 12 she appeared on the "Late Show With David Letterman" after much prodding by Mr. Letterman. Her appearance then won praise as being funny and relaxed.

And there were some flashes of humor tonight. She prepared her own version of one of Mr. Leno's standing features, called Jay Walking, in which Mr. Leno stops people on the street, shows them pictures of famous political leaders, like George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, and asks them to identify the leaders.

Mrs. Clinton responded with Hillary Walking, which she taped Thursday night in front of Rockefeller Center. She carried around a photograph of -- yes, really -- Mr. Leno, found that most people could identify him, and asked for advice on whether she should should go on and what she should say.

"Sometimes he's kind of mean," Mrs. Clinton told one woman she stopped on the street, adding: "I wonder what he's going to talk about after my husband's no longer president?"

"He'll talk about you," the woman said.

Mr. Leno noted that Mrs. Clinton grew up in a Republican household, and then as a teenager, announced to her parents that she considered herself more of a Democrat.

"What would happen if Chelsea said, 'You know, Mom, those Republicans have some good ideas,' " Mr. Leno asked.

"I would miss her a lot," Mrs. Clinton said, as the camera panned to Chelsea, sitting in the audience next to Mr. Leno's wife, Avis.

Still, at times, Mr. Leno seemed a little perplexed by the challenge posed by his decorous guest. He saw it coming. When he first took the stage, Mr. Leno said: "I promise to be on my best behavior. No jokes about the Clinton administration. No jokes at her husband's expense."

Mr. Leno paused a second. "Goodnight, everybody!"

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