Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) tours the Mojave Electric Co. on August 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Becker—Getty Images
August 5, 2016 12:31 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton wants to make the presidential election a choice between a wonk and a scrooge.

In campaign stops from Pennsylvania to Colorado and in new television advertisements this week, Clinton has presented herself as a cerebral policy-maker and Donald Trump as a heartless businessman, driving home a theme that her campaign hopes will define the race.

Clinton in recent days toured a tie factory in Denver and an electrical contracting facility in Las Vegas, where the themes were honest work and making it in America. Trump, who has come under fire for not paying his contractors and making his products overseas, was the butt of Clinton’s visits.

“Donald Trump would not pay people who did work, painters and plumbers and glass installers and marble installers and architects,” Clinton said in Denver at the Knotty Tie Co. “What kind of man does business by hurting other people?”

The next day in Las Vegas, Clinton drove home the message that Trump is a callous dealmaker, lambasting Trump over his now-shuttered Trump University, which is being sued for not delivering the services it promised, and pointing to his comments before the housing crisis. “What did Donald Trump say when [the housing crisis] began to happen? He basically said, ‘Hey this is good for me,” Clinton said. “I can make money. It didn’t matter the heartbreak, five million homes lost, 13 trillion dollars in family wealth, mostly in homes. What did Donald Trump do? He was thinking of himself.”

In case painting Trump as a cigar-chomping, real-life Mr. Burns isn’t enough, Clinton is continuing to sell herself as a competent, plans-driven policy maker, pointing to apprenticeship plans and infrastructure projects. “Some people said, ‘Oh my gosh, there she goes with another plan,’” Clinton said on Thursday at Mojave Electric in Las Vegas. “Here’s what I believe: If I’m asking you to vote for me for President, I want you to know what I’m going to try to do as your President starting next January 20th.”

Clinton’s approach to dealing with Trump closely parallels the line of attack Obama took against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, when Democrats endlessly scrutinized Romney’s record at Bain Capital. One of the most devastating ads from that election featured a paper mill worker who lost his job when Bain Capital was involved in the closing of his plant.

Trump, for his part, is continuing to attack Clinton herself as the villain, focusing on her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. “She’s made everybody less safe,” Trump said Thursday in Maine, repeating his moniker for her, “Crooked Hillary.”

“There’s something going on there,” Trump added. “Has anyone ever seen a liar like that ever before?”

This week, Clinton’s campaign released two ads, one spot that shows Trump talking with David Letterman about where his clothing line is made (Bangladesh and China), and another ad that details Clinton’s plan to raise taxes on top earners and charge an “exit tax” on companies that move overseas.

The dual task of portraying herself as a responsible manager and vilifying her opponent is central to her campaign, as Clinton consistently lags Trump in polls when voters are asked who they trust to do a better job on the economy. A Fox News poll this week showed that Trump beats Clinton in that category, 50 percent to 45 percent. Clinton has sought to close that deficit, mindful of the importance voters place on the economy when casting their ballots.

Data released on Friday showed that employers added a robust 255,000 jobs last month, suggesting the economy is strong despite tepid economic growth numbers in the second quarter. But both Trump and Clinton will use the latest data on the campaign trail to their advantage.

Trump has a lengthy business history, and has long been one of the most powerful names in business in America. His gold-plated name tops towers from New York to Chicago to properties abroad, and his reality television show The Celebrity Apprentice cemented his status as a businessman.

But Trump has come under fire for making nearly all Trump-branded products overseas instead of the United States, despite his repeated remonstrations against companies that have moved production facilities outside of the country, like Carrier or Nabisco. He’s also been accused in numerous lawsuits of not paying his own contractors during his repeated bankruptcies in Atlantic City. Clinton’s campaign started a website that hillaryclinton.com/makeithere, following up on another website artofthesteal.biz, all of which detail Trump’s business decisions.

At the same time, in appearances in Pennsylvania, Nevada and beyond, Clinton has spoken about her own plans in granular detail, an approach that won’t thrill most of her detractors but seeks to project competence.

At a campaign stop in Commerce City, Colo., Clinton called for modernizing the electric grid, mentioned that five million children don’t have Internet access at home, and said she wants to train 50,000 teachers to teach computer science.

Clinton recalled the average salary of a union worker at a steel producing plant in Pennsylvania ($70,000) and delivered a paean to Denver’s new transit system. “I’ve laid out the best I could the specific plans and ideas that I want to pursue as your president because I have this old-fashioned idea,” Clinton said on Wednesday “When you run for President, you ought to tell people what you want to do as their president.”

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