Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is in Atlantic City Wednesday, taking her campaign right to a former epicenter of fellow presidential contender Donald Trump’s casino and hotel development – and a place where his businesses have contributed to Trump's filing for bankruptcy four times in 25 years.
Mrs. Clinton’s visit is part of a campaign strategy to strike at Trump’s self-promulgated image as a successful businessman who will bring jobs and economic stability to the country, aides say.
The city itself has been teetering on verge of bankruptcy, and Clinton arrives amidst a strike by Trump Taj Mahal workers asking for health insurance and pensions. Mr. Trump is no longer affiliated with that hotel, which is owned instead by billionaire Carl Icahn, whom Trump has said he would like to name Secretary of the Treasury were he elected president. Mr. Icahn has reportedly said he will close the hotel before he will reinstate health benefits and pensions.
A Clinton campaign official has said that the candidate will focus on the Chapter 11 bankruptcies as examples of Trump’s ineptness in business, as well as the loss of jobs and grievances of contractors who worked for Trump. A key part of her focus will be pointing at something she hopes will win her more working class voters – Trump’s self-serving business practices.
“It really comes down to being able to show that every time Trump had an opportunity to get something for himself at the expense of someone else, he took it, in spades,” said Jake Sullivan, the Clinton campaign’s policy chief, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s bankruptcy filings in Atlantic City became a topic of conversation early on in the presidential race, when then-candidate Carly Fiorina called him out on his record. In the first Republican debate last August, Trump defended his record: "I have used the laws of this country ... the [bankruptcy] chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family.”
More recently, Trump has explained the filings as a way to manage debt, also tweeting that he is "the king of debt."
Trump’s bankruptcy filings have caused him to sell a yacht and an airline, as in the case of Trump Taj Majal, which was nearly $3 billion in debt with nearly $900 million in personal liabilities one year after it opened. He also used bankruptcy to reduce his stake in a company, as in the case of the Trump Entertainment Resorts filing in 2009.
But a Chapter 11 filing does not liquidate a company’s assets and force it to close. Instead it is a reorganization, which, while better to avoid, can be a "sound business decision" when the company has major financial problems, Michael Venditto, a partner at the ReedSmith law firm who has extensive experience with Chapter 11, told Politifact.
While it will be a focal point of the Atlantic City visit, Clinton has already targeted Trump’s bankruptcy history. In an Ohio rally last month, she quipped: "He's written a lot of books about business, they all seem to end at Chapter 11.”
Clinton’s visit comes just a day after she was the subject of a tongue-lashing from FBI Director James Comey, for her "extremely careless" handling of classified material on her email servers, and for her claims that she never used that email server for such materials.
While Clinton has received ringing endorsements from President Barak Obama, who joined her on the campaign trail Tuesday, the FBI finding is unlikely to strengthen her ratings when it comes to trustworthiness. A recent Quinnipiac University survey showed Trump beating Clinton when it comes to honesty.
What Clinton apparently hopes to do in Atlantic City is polish her image as a manager of the US economy, as compared to Trump.
“All of my plans are focused on a single, overarching goal,” she said in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. “Creating good paying jobs with rising incomes is the defining economic challenge of our time. And I believe so strongly that Americans deserve and need a raise, and every one of my policies adds up to an agenda to make that happen.”
Polls show that voters trust Trump over Clinton on the economy. It remains to be seen if Clinton’s concentrated attack on his business history will influence how Americans view his financial management capabilities.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.