Sneak peek inside Hillary Clinton 2016: Campaign will avoid first person

Updated 11:01 AM EDT, Tue April 7, 2015
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Story highlights

Hillary Clinton and her aides plan a very different campaign in 2016

Clinton will avoid using the first person whenever possible and Bill Clinton will play a smaller role

Staffers waiting for the official announcement are currently unpaid and working out of a kitchen

The person in charge of reintroducing Hillary Clinton also helped shape Michelle Obama's public persona

(CNN) —  

The second time around, Hillary Clinton is downsizing.

As she and a coterie of advisers prepare to launch her presidential campaign, their work is guided by a new set of humble principles: No big crowds. Few soaring rallies. Less mention of her own ambitions. And extinguish the air of inevitability propelling her candidacy.

The long and winding prelude to her announcement is nearly over, according to aides, and the start of her second bid for the White House is likely only days away. Top Democratic activists in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire privately say they have been placed on alert that Clinton will soon be on her way.

The specific moment she jumps into the race remains a closely guarded secret, even inside the crowded corridors of her small office suite in Manhattan, which new aides have descended upon to build the operation. Only a handful of confidantes actually know the precise time Clinton will pull the trigger — first on social media — yet aides have been instructed to be ready from Monday forward.

But her campaign strategy has crystallized: She will devote considerable time and attention to on-the-ground footwork in Iowa and New Hampshire. She intends to make less frequent stops in Nevada and South Carolina. Together, those four states kick off the nominating contest early next year and will help determine how warmly Democrats embrace her candidacy.

The early pieces of her strategy are starting to come into sharper view as the announcement nears. One of the most noticeable differences from her first campaign, according to more than a dozen people close to the Clintons, is a concerted effort to try and make her candidacy seem far less focused on her winning than on listening to the concerns of voters.

“The early caucus and primary states give her an opportunity to visit with folks in small, more intimate settings, where they will learn a lot about her and she will learn a lot from them,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary and former Iowa governor, who served as a national chairman of her 2008 campaign, told CNN.

Clinton adds to campaign press team

Putting in time in Iowa

Over dinner and drinks one night last week at Baratta’s, a cozy Italian restaurant in Des Moines, two top visiting Clinton strategists listened as supportive Iowa activists issued a stark warning: Some Democrats are far less enthused about her candidacy than others. After placing third in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, they said she must ask for every vote as well as being willing to run a gauntlet of small events and take part in grueling campaign sessions across the state.

Robby Mook, the campaign manager, and Marlon Marshall, a top deputy, traveled from New York to Iowa and New Hampshire last week as Clinton’s envoys. They hosted the dinner and other intimate events, hoping to show that a former First Lady, senator and Secretary of State was open to concern, constructive criticism and even complaints.

Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party in Iowa, said activists were hungry for a primary campaign or at least a serious conversation about issues facing the country and who would become President Obama’s successor. He was not invited to the dinner last week because he intends to remain neutral in the race, but he said he has shared his views with Clinton confidantes.

“The Democratic voters in Iowa are eager for this to get started,” Henderson told CNN. “Many Democrats believe that a spirited caucus and primary season is essential to a successful Democratic presidential campaign in the fall of 2016.”

Several Democrats close to Clinton say she would actually rather face a credible primary challenger — and she still might — rather than be forced to compete with unrealistic expectations of a phantom candidate being promoted by the party’s more liberal left wing.

No ‘I’ in Clinton 2016

But Clinton has told her advisers that she intends to aggressively campaign as though she has a primary opponent, aides say, by listening to concerns of voters and taking great pains to avoid the appearance of a coronation.

One approach is to avoid blatant suggestions of the historic nature of her candidacy, hoping to fight impressions that Clinton’s presidential aspirations are all about her.

That was one of the key findings of research already conducted through focus groups in Iowa and New Hampshire. Those conversations, coupled with the searing lessons from 2008, have led aides to impress upon Clinton and her loyal circle of admirers that, far more than her own political ambitions, this race must be about what voters want.

While it seems basic, the fresh crop of advisers cringe at how she announced her last presidential campaign, with a video message and a statement on her website that declared: “I’m in. And I’m in to win.”

This first-person mantra, which flourished repeatedly throughout her statement back on Jan. 20, 2007, will be all but stripped from her vocabulary, aides say. In its place will be a pledge to carry the causes of Americans who feel left behind in the economic recovery and the growing divide among classes.