Hillary Clinton stumps for Terry McAuliffe
FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Hillary Clinton made her first campaign appearance in nearly five years on Saturday to support Terry McAuliffe, her old friend who’s running as the Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia.
But for the media and the majority of attendees packed into The State Theatre here for the event, it was all about her.
She laid out a case for him that rested strongly on women’s equality, gay marriage and rejecting the “scorched earth” politics that have defined Washington over the past several months. Though she didn’t directly call out Republicans, it was clear who she was talking about when she said some politicians have been operating in an “evidence-free zone”, “do not believe in America’s progress” and are trying to “hijack” the future. (perhaps, a little at Obama as well.)
“There are times when none of us can sit on the sidelines,” Clinton told the crowd of more than 700 people. “And right now, here in Virginia, is one of those times. … The whole country is watching this election. Watching to see whether the voters of Virginia lead the way of turning from divisive politics [and] getting back to common sense and common ground.”
The crowd chanted “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” before she even started speaking. McAuliffe served as her warm-up act, describing Clinton as an “inspiration to men and women all across Virginia and all across the globe.”
The speech effectively ended Clinton’s hiatus from electoral politics. But Clinton, whose allies are mindful of her being in the spotlight too early, kept it devoid of heavily-partisan barbs and language, allowing her to maintain some distance.
Though most of her remarks were in praise of McAuliffe, Clinton also hinted at themes of a potential speech for her own national campaign, focusing on issues spanning the work of her entire career. The Iowa caucuses, of course, are still two years away and Clinton insists she hasn’t decided whether to run.
But it was the first of what will be many speeches the former Secretary and senator gives over next year that will be parsed for hidden meaning as she decides whether to launch a second presidential run. One line seemed to offer a window into her own thought process about her future.
“When you think about why people run for office in these times — if it’s only about yourself, if it’s only about you wanting to get a job and the perks that go with it, and having people stand up when you come into the room, that’s not enough anymore because its hard. Politics is hard.”
(Also on POLITICO: Clintons go all out for McAuliffe)
“Recently in Washington, unfortunately, we have seen examples of the wrong kind of leadership, when politicians choose scorched earth instead of common ground,” Clinton said at another point, bemoaning “when they operate in what I call the ‘evidence-free zone,’ with ideology trumping everything else.”
She went on to cite the human toll of the shutdown: families who suffered through furloughs, businesses that lost revenue, mothers who struggled to provide formula for babies.
“That is not the kind of leadership we need in Virginia and America today,” she said. “Openness and tolerance are essential … building blocks for a creative, dynamic and diverse economy.”
Clinton never mentioned Republicans specifically, and struck, to the extent possible, a theme of bipartisanship. She also never specifically talked about gay marriage, saying the need to protect people’s rights to love whomever they want is paramount. While she never made reference to her own potential ambitions, it was clearly on the minds of everyone there.
Looking rested and donning a pantsuit and hairstyle evocative of her Senate days, Clinton joked at the outset that “I’ve been out of politics for a few years now.”
“And I’ve had a chance to think a lot about what makes our country so great. What kind of leadership is required to keep it great.”
“Yours!” someone in the audience cried out, to applause.
Clinton allies are hoping she can keep her poll numbers, which are always stronger when she’s viewed as stepping away from politics, relatively high as she decides over the next year whether to run. Most people close to her believe she will and are eager to see her steer clear of politics as long as possible.
McAuliffe was billed as one of the few exceptions to her no-politics plan this year, a fact that the GOP-leaning super PAC America Rising rapped Clinton for ahead of her speech. They noted she’s avoiding New Jersey, where Democrat Barbara Buono has been struggling in her campaign for governor, and suggested she was dissing a female candidate.
But Clinton is clearly hoping to avoid strict partisan lines, in her actions and in her speeches, as she talked up “common ground.”
The nation, Clinton said in her address at the event, is “watching to see if it’s possible to move toward a new economy that works for everyone, and also provides good jobs with benefits for everyone and where equal work really does mean equal pay for everyone.”
People are waiting to see, she said, “if the rights of women and girls will be respected, especially over our own bodies and health care.”
“I’ve been in a lot of elections,” Clinton said with a light toss of her head and a smile, toward the end of her speech. The crowd ate it up.
“I know at the end of the day it all comes down to who takes the trouble to show up and vote,” she said.
Clinton has given a number of speeches, paid and unpaid, since she left the State Department early this year. But she was prohibited from political activity at State, and McAuliffe is the first candidate she has publicly endorsed since the end of the presidential election in 2008.
Seeming stilted at first, Clinton warmed up as she went on. Clinton’s currently high popularity, buoyed by her time out of the political limelight, is a boost to McAuliffe as he looks to drum up turnout among the Democratic base in his campaign against Republican Attorney General Ken Cucinelli.
It was clear that Clinton, not McAuliffe, was the main draw for many in the crowd.
Don Evans, 60, of Fairfax, said the event “caught our attention” because Clinton was appearing — and that he came with his elderly father-in-law, who is bedridden but insisted on leaving the house to see Clinton speak.
“My father-in-law, who’s in a wheelchair, he really wanted to see Hillary … it’s a big production to get him out here because he’s bedridden, and has had a stroke,” he said. “But he said he saw the first Catholic president, first black president, and now he wanted to see the first female president.”
Many voters said they’re hopeful Clinton will run in 2016 — and that they don’t know who they’d support if she doesn’t.
“I’ve got my ‘Ready for Hillary’ bumper sticker – I’m counting on her to run,” said Alexa Williams, 21, a student at Wellesley College who’s originally from Alexandria, Va. “I haven’t thought about anyone else.”
Tracy Henderson, 48, of Fairfax, Va., said she came to see Clinton and McAuliffe equally — she’s been paying close attention to the Virginia race.
“[Clinton] just lends a sound, calm voice to this,” she said. “I trust her because she’s been such a great leader through the last two decades.”
Hillary’s speech has made me feel incandescent and euphoric. The way I felt in 2008′ until her campaign was abruptly halted while seeking the Dem nomination.