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Clinton 'dead broke' remark prompts partisan pushback

By Gabriel Debenedetti

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Accused of being out of touch after making comments about her finances, likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton headed for a speaking engagement on Tuesday that could earn her up to $250,000.

Clinton's address to food trade groups in Chicago comes as she takes heat for comments that her family was "dead broke" when it left the White House in 2000, despite the considerable income she and former president Bill have earned subsequently along with the luxury real estate assets they have managed to acquire. Her annual salary as secretary of state was $186,600.

"Between their million-dollar mansions in New York and Washington and her ridiculously expensive speaking fees, it's clear nobody could be more out of touch than Hillary Clinton," said Republican National Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

The fuss over her comments in an ABC News interview released Monday overshadowed the launch in New York on Tuesday of Clinton's latest book, "Hard Choices," seen as a prelude to a campaign for the 2016 presidential election.

The early favorite to win that race, Clinton made no reference to her finances in remarks at a midtown Manhattan book store where hundreds gathered for signed copies of the book. Some had lined up outside all night.

She made conciliatory comments on Tuesday, telling ABC's "Good Morning America" that she appreciates "how hard life is" for many Americans.

After the book event, Clinton was to fly to Chicago to address a food conference at a joint session of the United Fresh Produce Association and the Food Marketing Institute, two trade groups.

Similar speeches have likely earned her up to $250,000 each since she left the State Department last year, according to sources familiar with speaking fees for public figures.

Her Chicago address is sponsored by Wonderful Brands, the makers of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, which is owned by longtime Democratic donors Lynda and Stewart Resnick.

Liberals have criticized Clinton for taking money from financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, for speeches they say make her beholden to big business.

Polls show Clinton would win the Democratic nomination if she wanted it. But her obvious wealth combined with her sometimes clumsy attempts to appear as a normal citizen are a weak point, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton.

"This has always been a challenge for Clinton, who is perfect on paper but often fails to connect. She needs to be honest with voters and not try to be someone different. In the end she needs to realize that her genuine self is probably her greatest selling point," he said.

By the time President Clinton left the White House, he had outstanding legal fees of around $4 million, according to press accounts at the time.

But the Clintons' federal tax returns indicate they paid those debts by 2004 after income from speaking tours by Bill and Hillary’s memoir "Living History," which reached $1.1 million in 2002 and another $2.28 million in 2003.

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; editing by Prudence Crowther)

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