WASHINGTON — In the wake of the firing of radio host Don Imus, Senator Clinton will appear at Rutgers University today to deliver a speech titled "Because Politics Matters: Women and Public Leadership."
More than any other presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton has sought to incorporate the firestorm over Mr. Imus's remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team into her campaign.
Last week, the senator sent an email to thousands of supporters urging them to send messages of encouragement to the team, and her campaign announced her speaking engagement in New Jersey at Rutgers, where she is to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university's Eagleton Institute of Politics and the 35th anniversary of its Center for American Women and Politics.
A campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Hanley, said yesterday that Mrs. Clinton had a "long-standing invitation" to speak at the Eagleton Institute, and the timing of her acceptance of the offer was clearly tied to the controversy over Mr. Imus, who drew criticism from all corners of American politics and lost his long-running radio show for calling members of the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
"This was seen as a very important moment to talk about many of the issues raised in the last several weeks," Ms. Hanley said. Mrs. Clinton will meet with the women's basketball team before her speech, scheduled for noon.
Unlike Senator Obama or John Edwards, Mrs. Clinton had never appeared on the Imus show, but her and her husband's history with the host is more complicated. Then-Governor Clinton helped enhance Mr. Imus's stature in 1992 when he bantered on-air with the host in the heat of his first presidential campaign. But four years later it was a different story at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner, when Mr. Imus infuriated the Clintons by making off-color jokes about their personal and political foibles as they sat a few feet away. He riffed on the president's extramarital affairs and about Mrs. Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater scandal, joking about the possibility that she would be indicted.
The White House press secretary denounced the humor as "tasteless" and even urged C-Span not to re-air the broadcast.
Mr. Imus has also ridiculed Mrs. Clinton repeatedly on his show, but she has not directly mentioned the prior incidents in criticizing Mr. Imus for his comments about the Rutgers athletes. "I've never wanted to go on his show and I certainly don't ever intend to go on his show, and I felt that way before his latest outrageous, hateful, hurtful comments," she said last week before his dismissal.
But political analysts don't expect her to go after Messrs. Obama or Edwards today for having appeared on Mr. Imus's show in recent years, as they are among scores of Washington power players, including her own husband, who have been guests of his in the past. "You are subject to the charge of hypocrisy, so she's not going to say anything," a political science professor at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said.
By speaking at Rutgers so soon after Mr. Imus's firing, Mrs. Clinton may run the risk of appearing as if she is exploiting the incident for political gain, but she also faces pressure from her base to stand up for black women. "Liberals want her to say the right thing. Blacks want to ensure that she says the right thing. And everybody else is going to be watching to make sure she doesn't go over the edge," a Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, said. "It's perilous in some ways but fruitful in others."