Clinton's wealth raises questions about her income inequality message

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Hillary Clinton and her advisers are already defending the wealthy Democratic presidential candidate for portraying herself as a champion for middle-class Americans.

Within hours of her campaign kickoff speech last weekend, she and her advisers were on the defensive, pointing out Clinton’s humble beginnings and arguing that she has devoted her entire professional career to helping average Americans.

“I’m grateful for the success that (husband) Bill and I have had,” Clinton said Monday on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. “We both come from hard-working families. We both have worked very hard.”

Clinton made the comments one day after senior campaign spokeswomen Karen Finney was asked on “Fox News Sunday” about Clinton, who until recently made $250,000 for a one-hour speech while the average American makes $45,000 a year.

“I hear what you're saying in terms of how much she made for speeches, but what's important is that this is a person who has always fought for people who need to have a champion,” said Finney, before pivoting to what has emerged as a major campaign theme - Clinton’s humble roots.

“Very early in her life she was very strongly influenced by the idea that there are people who don't have (a champion),” Finney continued.

Clinton and Republican Carly Fiorina are the two wealthiest 2016 presidential candidates, The Hill newspaper reported.

Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, is worth nearly $59 million while Clinton and former President Bill Clinton earned about $30 million over the past 16 months, according to recently filed financial statements reviewed by the newspaper.

This is not the first time a wealthy presidential candidate has been challenged about his or her ability to champion America’s underclass.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, faced similar questions during his failed bid for the White House.

On Monday, he said on MSNBC that Clinton’s speech Saturday struck the right notes for her base but that her facial expression on the campaign trail “just doesn’t suggest that she believes what she’s saying.”

Clinton also said Monday that Americans with whom she has recently spoken are less interested in her wealth than knowing “what are you going to do for me and my family.

"And they aren’t against success, just successful people not giving others a chance at prosperity," she said.

Campaign chairman John Podesta on Sunday told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Clinton “from the day she left law school, went to work for the Children's Defense Fund, from her work in Arkansas, to first lady of the United States -- has fought for children, families.”

Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson made a similar case on ABC’s “This Week,” saying, “These are things she's been fighting for her whole life.”

Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, told Fox News on Monday that Clinton is pushing the same expensive social programs that have created the income inequality she plans to close. And the only way to debunk Clinton’s message is for Republicans to “come out and tear it apart,” Pierson said.