In politics as in comedy, timing is everything.
Hillary Clinton was about halfway through her stump speech here Tuesday, stabbing needle after needle into Donald Trump and his apparently glancing relationship with the Internal Revenue Service, when she paused, smiled and found her inner Jerry Seinfeld.
“He lost $1 billion in the casino business,” she cracked. “I mean ... who loses money running a casino except Donald Trump?”
Wait... she had a million of them.
“Friends don’t let friends vote Trump,” she quipped, as the crowd roared.
Have friends thinking about voting Trump? “I want you to stage an intervention,” she joked. The audience ate it up.
The one-liners, though, had a purpose. They were delivered alongside a heaping helping of red meat for the crowd that packed a Shriner’s hall in a leafy neighborhood in Pennsylvania’s capital city.
With a month to go before Election Day, even as the race has tightened elsewhere, Pennsylvania is a blue-state firewall for the Democratic nominee.
A trio of polls from Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Franklin & Marshall College gave Clinton a lead over Trump ranging from 4 to 10 percentage points in Pennsylvania.
With Pennsylvania’s Oct. 11, voter registration deadline just days away, Clinton and her supporters repeatedly exhorted the crowd to register themselves and their friends.
“I’m closing this campaign the way I started my career, fighting for kids and families,” she said at the beginning of remarks that stretched about 45 minutes.
Frequently interrupted by applause, Clinton told the crowd she was, “Standing up for fairness and opportunities; taking on all those kitchen table issues that keep people up at night. I’m making sure every family has the tools it needs to get ahead and stay ahead.”
It was, as in the parlance of 1992, all about the economy, stupid.
Trump stiffed vendors; he played fast and loose with the tax code and he dragged the bankruptcy laws behind him with the same dogged insistence as Linus from the “Peanuts” comic strip, throwing it around his shoulders and over his face at the slightest hint of danger.
And sure, it may have been perfectly legal for Trump to take advantage of Lincoln Tunnel-sized loopholes in the tax code to claim a nearly $1 billion loss in 1995 that may or may not have sheltered him from paying taxes as “Friends” went from first-run and well into reruns.
But that didn’t make it any less slimy.
And Clinton, sensing an opening, went for it, again and again and again.
“It’s not only what he did, but how he did it,” Clinton said, referring to Trump’s patchy history in Atlantic City’s casino industry and the trail of broken promises left in his wake. “I’m talking painters and plumbers and dishwashers ... I’ve met some of these people and I take it really personal.”
Clinton pounced on Wall Street, telling the crowd that “We can’t ever let Wall Street wreck Main Street again. We put some strong regulations on the banks ... I think we could do some more.”
The remarks were jarring. It wasn’t tough to recall that Clinton made a bundle giving speeches to the very Wall Street banks she now wants to bring to heel.
Still, it was a message that resonated with an audience that cut across a crowd that was cross-section of the African-Americans, older working-class voters and millennials that Clinton has to lasso if she wants to win a state integral to her White House chances.
“It might be legal, but I don’t think it’s moral,” Conner Dodd, 29, a law student from Wexford, Pa., near Pittsburgh, said of Trump’s reported tax dodges (which he’s repeatedly defended). “I don’t want someone who outwits the law to run our country.”
Adelaide Steely, a Harrisburg mother of three sons, two of whom served in the Army and Marines, took Trump’s tax habits personally. Not paying his fair share meant the New York mogul didn’t do his part to support the Armed Forces who keep the country he aspires to lead safe, she said.
“That really ticks me off,” she said.
In her speech, Clinton summed it up in a line:
“Donald Trump is the poster boy for so much of what is wrong with our economy,” she said.
The crowd in Harrisburg bought it - now she has to keep selling it until Election Day.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com