Running for Hillary: the marketing guru who's in touch with small-town America

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The Independent US

Hillary Clinton is enlisting the help of a marketing guru who temporarily packed in his job to walk across the US and "feel America again" last year.

In his month-long ramble from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, Roy Spence, 60, filled his blog with anecdotes about small-town cafes and bed and breakfasts and posted snapshots of the people he met.

Now there is talk of Bill or Hillary Clinton joining him on another leg of his rural odyssey. "Roy has said Bill or Hillary said they are going to walk with him along the way," his spokeswoman Melanie Mahaffey told ABC News yesterday.

"He pops up every time there seems to be a problem with imagery," said Matthew Dowd, who has known Mr Spence for 20 years and is a former campaign strategist for George Bush.

Mr Spence has been a family friend for decades and he was with Mrs Clinton at her Chappaqua, New York, home on Wednesday after she flew in from her New Hampshire victory to develop a campaign strategy for the crucial four weeks of campaigning that lie ahead.

A legend in the advertising world, he was the image-maker for Wal-Mart during Mrs Clinton's little-known six years on the board of directors of the company. Mrs Clinton has airbrushed her association with Wal-Mart out of her public profile and rarely discusses it.

Based in Austin, Texas, Mr Spence is credited with coining the memorable phrase "Don't Mess With Texas", and developing the slogan "You are now free to move about the country" for Southwest Airlines.

Confronted with the wave of enthusiasm among young people for Barack Obama's message of "hope" and "change", the Clinton campaign has been busy reshaping her public message. From saying she was "ready to lead" Mrs Clinton now ads that she too is "ready for change", and the emphasis is now on her softer side.

When Mrs Clinton came close to tears on the eve of the New Hampshire polls, it helped dispel the steely image she had been projecting. On the brink of defeat, her advisers who had never thought to advise her to project her more feminine side saw her suddenly connecting with women voters.

Mrs Clinton has herself said that the raw emotion she displayed in a café last Monday may explain why New Hampshire women turned out for her in such numbers. "Well, I think it could well have been," she told ABC's Good Morning America. "Certainly, people mention it to me."

This weekend millions more viewers will get a chance to see the image makeover when she has an hour-long session on NBC's Meet the Press programme. Mrs Clinton first met Mr Spence while both were working on the failed Presidential campaign of George McGovern in the 1972 presidential bid. She called him one of "the best friends I've ever had", in her autobiography, Living History.

"We would sit outside at the end of 18- or 20-hour days, trying to figure out what else we could do in the face of ever-worsening poll numbers," said Mrs Clinton.

Three decades later, Mrs Clinton's bid for the White House is facing a surprisingly tough obstacle in the form of an African-American candidate with an inspirational message. With Mr Spence on her side, her strategy is to adopt a voice that will be gentler than the hectoring tone she had adopted throughout much of the campaign.

All this is happening while, behind the scenes, supporters are busy undermining Mr Obama. Two days after her "crying moment", the website which has no known link to the official Clinton campaign, posted an item suggesting US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will soon "destroy" Mr Obama in a "scandal" involving an "indicted slumlord" who is Mr Obama's "friend of 17 years" and with whom Mr Obama has been involved in "shady deals".

In advertising circles Mr Spence is an "Idea Man", although his firm GSD&M has recently run into trouble, laying off 200 people.

This coincided with his decision to start a trek across America in which he chalked up 20 miles a day. He plan was to become a "better marketer and a better person".