WASHINGTON - FDR had his fireside chats. Richard Nixon held conversational exchanges with small groups in his 1968 campaign. Now Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is telling Americans, "Let's chat" - just you, me, and an intimate group of 300 million or so Americans.
Clinton's effort to launch her campaign as an online "conversation" has a political pedigree that extends well beyond the "listening tour" from her 2000 Senate campaign or the "conversations on health care" that she held during her unsuccessful health-care overhaul effort of 1993.
Her husband, Bill Clinton, held his own listening tour in Arkansas before deciding to run for president in 1992.
The campaign-as-conversation is a gimmick, some political consultants say, but not necessarily a bad one.
"They've got to soften Hillary, and this is a way to do it," said Dane Strother, a Democratic consultant unaffiliated with any of the presidential campaigns.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a political communications expert who directs the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that for Clinton, it's a good way to meet the challenge of appearing both competent and caring that voters seem to demand of female candidates.
And so Clinton planted herself on a couch for three nights this week for upbeat "Webchats" from "Hillary TV," as her Web site styles itself. Her first campaign trip to Iowa today was billed as a "conversation with Iowans."
The format was also tried by Democratic candidate John Edwards this week.