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Documents show 1990s effort to 'humanize' Hillary Clinton

By John Whitesides and Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aides in former President Bill Clinton's White House crafted a strategy to "humanize" then-first lady Hillary Clinton and work around her "aversion" to the national media, according to documents released on Friday.

The documents also detailed the first lady's struggles in the early 1990s with her healthcare task force, including worries about resistance on Capitol Hill and an aide's warning the plan could not meet a pledge to allow patients to pick their doctors, a promise that also came back to haunt President Barack Obama.

The release of nearly 4,000 pages of previously sealed documents by the Clinton Presidential Library served to revisit Hillary Clinton's record and early struggles with her image as she gears up for a potential 2016 run for the presidency. The documents had previously been withheld from the public under a legal authority that expired last year.

The documents shed light on efforts to overcome the perception that the first lady was aloof and calculating, detailing her attempts to win positive press coverage around the time she gave a speech at a U.N. conference in China in 1995 and ahead of her successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2000.

An August 31, 1995, memo by Clinton's press secretary Lisa Caputo suggested she do interviews with "regional media."

"Hillary is comfortable with the local reporters and enjoys speaking with them," the memo states. "This will help us get around her aversion to the national Washington media and serve to counter the tone of the national media."

The memo recommended a "Hillaryland Staff Outreach to Media" and urged Clinton aides to "socialize more" with reporters.

"I believe it would create enormous good will for Hillary since we can all tell wonderful Hillary anecdotes that humanize her and show the press the good person that she is," it said.

Such an effort would also correct the picture of Clinton's "being in a bunker mentality," the memo stated. It further suggested the "wild idea" of having the first lady make a guest appearance on the then-popular ABC sitcom "Home Improvement," starring Tim Allen.

'A FIASCO'

In a July 6, 1999, memo to Clinton as she headed off on a "listening tour" in New York state to introduce herself to voters ahead of her successful run for the Senate, consultant Mandy Grunwald advised her to be "chatty, intimate, informal" and "real."

The memo listed two questions she might prepare for: "Have you ever used drugs?" and "Your only government assignment was health care which was a fiasco. How does that record stack up against Mayor Giuliani's?"

Then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was seen as a possible Republican Senate candidate but did not run. Clinton won a Senate seat, beating Republican Rick Lazio in 2000.

The documents also showed administration aides were worried early about the prospects for the first lady's healthcare initiative and went to elaborate lengths to court key lawmakers and sell the plan to the public.

The plan to provide universal health coverage was dropped in September 1994 amid heavy criticism in Congress and from the health insurance industry that it was too complex and bureaucratic.

In the early stages of the debate in 1993, a staff memo suggested Clinton hold a series of meetings and working dinners with congressional leaders to build support and offered suggestions for ways to stroke the egos of individual members.

In a January 1994 memo, a White House aide said the president's plan to include a promise in the State of the Union address that Americans could pick the health plan and doctor of their choice "sounds great" but might come back to haunt the administration.

"I am very worried about getting skewered or over-promising here on something we know full well we won't deliver," the memo said.

The incident echoed Obama's later inability to keep a similar promise about his healthcare law that all patients would be able to keep their doctors.

The documents also included a transcript of a 1993 speech to Democratic congressional leaders in which Hillary Clinton said the individual mandate to purchase insurance - a basic tenet of Obamacare but not part of her proposal in the 1990s - was a "much harder sell" that would send shockwaves through the insured population.

The documents, the first of about 33,000 pages that will be released in the next few weeks, are posted online by the library at http://www.clintonlibrary.gov/formerlywithhelddocuments.html.

(Editing by Prudence Crowther)

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