Clinton makes general election pitch with focus on terrorism

Clinton: Trump playing right into the hands of ISIS
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Story highlights

  • Clinton on Tuesday outlines her plan to fight terrorism and combat domestic radicalization
  • Terrorism has become the top concern of Americans, but not with Democrats

Minneapolis (CNN)No votes have been cast, and she still needs to defeat Bernie Sanders, but Hillary Clinton appears to be looking ahead to November.

When Clinton on Tuesday outlines her plan to fight terrorism and combat domestic radicalization, in Minneapolis, she will be hitting on issues more important to independents and Republicans than Democrats. It's a clear sign the campaign is already working to pitch the former secretary of state to an audience that may not vote in Democratic primaries, but could be swayed to support the Democrat in the general election.
Tuesday's speech will be the third she has given on ISIS in less than a month. Clinton, according to an aide briefed on the speech, "will propose a comprehensive strategy to counter each step in the process that can lead to a terrorist attack like San Bernardino, from recruitment, to training, to planning, to execution, all while staying true to our values."
    Clinton's focus on terrorism is a response to terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino that left scores of people dead -- and tracks with the overall change in the tenor of the 2016 campaign. Since the attacks, she has stressed the need to step up the fight against ISIS and has pushed for more gun control in the United States.
    After the two terrorist attacks, new polls have found that terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters' top issues in 2016, altering the tenor of the race.
    A Gallup survey released Monday found that 16% of Americans now say terrorism is the most important problem facing the U.S., up from just 3% in November. That is the highest number of people worried about terrorism since 2005 and knocks the economy and government from top spots.

    Democrats say economy is top worry

    But Democrats are not as worried about terrorism as independents and Republicans, according to the Gallup survey. Only 9% of Democrats cited terrorism as their top issue, while 15% of independents and 24% of Republicans said the same. The economy remained the top concern for Democrats, with 21% telling Gallup it was a significant problem.
    In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows the economy remains the top issue for likely Democratic caucusgoers there, with 35% calling that the most important issue in deciding on the Democratic race, compared to only 7% citing terrorism. Among likely Democratic caucusgoers, there's a near even split between Sanders (45%) and Clinton (44%) on who can best handle the economy. Clinton is tops on foreign policy and terrorism.
    The split is particularly notable in the race for the Democratic nomination. Over a dozen interviews with prospective Democratic caucus goers in Iowa earlier this month found that Clinton's supporters are far more worried about ISIS than Sanders' backers.
    Terrorism "is really not that big of an issue to me," said Michael Fett, a 33-year old musician who will caucus for the first time in February when he backs Sanders. "We have only had a few terrorist attacks here in America where a significant thing happened." Fett added that when he caucuses for Sanders on February 1 it will be income inequality and the state of the economy that compel him to stand for the senator, not Sanders' plan to fight ISIS.
    That sentiment was echoed throughout Sanders' recent trip across Iowa, with Sanders supporters in Dubuque, Waterloo and Mount Vernon all telling CNN that they are more worried about "racist" responses to ISIS -- like Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims coming into the United States -- than they are about actually defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
    "This fear mongering going on right now is a distraction, that is all it is," Dick Carter, a retired University of Iowa employee, said in Mount Vernon. "It has nothing to do with terrorism."
    Rachel Engel, a 19-year old college student, agreed, arguing that it is racism towards Muslim Americans that is more of a concern for her.
    "I think the fight against people who are ignorant about who terrorists are is very important to me, more than" the actual fight against ISIS, she said. "The ignorance in this country about all Muslims being terrorists is a very big problem right now."
    The sentiment expressed by Sanders supporters mirrored the tactics the Sanders campaign is using: The candidate wants to keep focused on his comfort issues -- the economy, campaign finance and healthcare - while challenging the idea that terrorism is the most important issue being discussed.
    "Of course ISIS is a major threat to our country and to the world and of course it has to be crushed," he said on Sunday in a conversation with reporters. "But it is not the only issue."
    Clinton has addressed ISIS repeatedly since terrorists killed 130 people in Paris last month, but has done so by slightly breaking with President Barack Obama. Clinton emphatically said that ISIS "cannot be contained" and "must be defeated" during the second Democratic debate last night, a subtle knock on Obama who said ISIS has been "contained." Clinton has also endorsed a no-fly zone over Northern Syria, breaking with Obama.
    The fact Clinton is delivering Tuesday's speech at the University of Minnesota - Minneapolis is not without significance. Clinton will hold up Minnesota's efforts to combat domestic radicalization in the state's Somali-American population, according to an aide, noting the multi-million dollar efforts Minneapolis, St. Paul and other cities have spent to identify radicalization in young people and combat ISIS propaganda.
    While Democrats supporting Clinton also stressed the importance of "kitchen table" issues, like jobs, healthcare and the minimum wage, far fewer said they weren't concerned about ISIS.
    "I want nothing more to know what a politician that I vote for is going to do to help my country, because if the country is strong, I'll be strong," Michael Fisher, a 62-year old Vietnam veteran from Cedar Rapids said before door-knocking for Clinton. "I feel Secretary Clinton is the only candidate out there that has everything it takes to handle terrorism."