Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton jabbed at President Bush and issued a detailed call for universal health care Thursday night as she sought to...
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton jabbed at President Bush and issued a detailed call for universal health care Thursday night as she sought to draw distinctions between herself and Sen. Barack Obama, her Democratic rival.
She told an enthusiastic crowd of thousands in Seattle that if they believed like she did and wanted mandated health care for everyone, “I’m the only candidate on either side that you should come out and support on Saturday.”
Democrats and Republicans will hold nominating caucuses Saturday. Record turnout is expected for Democrats.
Today, as Clinton continues a caucus-eve campaign swing through Tacoma and Spokane, Obama will be in Seattle for a rally at KeyArena. It’s the first time the two candidates have appeared in the state at the same time.
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Clinton spoke to supporters at the Pier 30 Event Center, a hangarlike building on the waterfront that was filled with 5,000 people. Organizers said hundreds more were turned away for lack of space.
The room grew hot as the crowd waited for the tardy Clinton to arrive. Some spectators were tended to by emergency personnel. Her speech began about 9:30 p.m., an hour late.
Clinton did not mention Obama’s name in her speech. Nor did she mention her husband, former President Clinton, his eight years in office or her time as first lady.
She attacked Bush over his handling of the war and running up record deficits. She borrowed from Obama’s campaign to offer her bipartisan bona fides. She said it’s also important to have a president “who knows how to stand our ground.”
And she clearly was attacking a key theme of Obama’s when she talked about national unity.
“I am hoping to unify the country, but to unify it to do the work of the country, not just to unify for the sake of saying, ‘We’re unified.’… We need to be unified with a common purpose. The purpose is progress.”
After early contests showed Obama getting a majority of the youth vote, Clinton boasted Thursday about winning that demographic in California and Massachusetts this week. She used that to draw a comparison between her credentials and Obama’s.
“Young people turned out and they turned out because young people, like all of us, realize we have to have a president who is ready on day one to walk into the Oval Office and not only be our president with ideas and the know-how … but we also need a commander in chief,” she said.
“We need a hands-on manager.”
At the same time, Clinton wants to mesh the readiness she claims with what she says is her standing as the real anti-establishment candidate in the race.
“It is clearly going to be more of the same from John McCain or a new direction from a Democrat who will take back the White House,” she said Thursday night.
Obama makes the same claim as an outsider.
But both may want to pause and consider the recent history of Washington’s Democratic caucuses: Despite much talk of the love of the insurgent, the well-credentialed and experienced candidate has won here.
That was the case in 2004 when Sen. John Kerry’s argument of electability easily beat Howard Dean’s promise of big change. It was hardly even a contest four years before when Vice President Al Gore trounced Sen. Bill Bradley.
There was a time when state Democrats prided themselves on their embrace of the maverick, like in 1992 when they caucused for former Sen. Paul Tsongas over front-runner Bill Clinton. That Clinton finished fourth in the caucuses, behind Tsongas, “uncommitted” and Jerry Brown.
But for the past two presidential cycles, state Democrats have little to show for their claim of rugged independence. The state party’s motto could be: In Pragmatism We Trust.
The Clinton campaign tagged Obama with the weight of the establishment because of his superior fundraising and a rash of high-profile endorsements.
Obama countered that the entire primary and caucus calendar was created by Clinton and her backers across the country “to deliver the knockout blow Feb. 5.”
Clearly, Obama has the better anti-establishment credentials. Clinton had eight years in the White House and has played an integral role in a political operation that’s been powerful in the Democratic Party since 1992.
The candidates’ support in Washington shows the same split. More of Washington’s big names in politics have endorsed Clinton, including the state’s two U.S. senators.
Congressman Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, head of Obama’s campaign here, gave a half-laugh, half-choke, in response to the suggestion that Clinton was campaigning as an outsider.
“She has been a national political figure for 16 years,” Smith said in an interview earlier Thursday. “She has a huge operation, she was the presumptive nominee. Nobody thought anybody was going to be the nominee except for Hillary Clinton.”
There’s a twist on Smith’s position. Four years ago he headed John Kerry’s state campaign, arguing for experience and electability against Dean and his enthusiastic, grass roots followers.
And on the other side in 2004 was then-state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt, one of Dean’s top supporters. Berendt is now in Clinton’s camp, after making a late move following the departure of his first choice, John Edwards.
In the past he has described state Democrats as “one-third passion and two-thirds pragmatism.”
“I believe that Hillary gets a high percentage of the pragmatic vote because people believe her skill set better prepares her to be president,” he said, “and Obama is somewhat of a question mark in that world.”
But how can Clinton argue she’s not the insider in the race? “She certainly can claim an outsider mantle, although we all know her so well it’s hard to think of her as an outsider,” Berendt said. “But she’s breaking down some barriers here.”
Women in the crowd Thursday night echoed that.
“I think it’s absolutely crazy to say that a woman is the establishment candidate,” said Nicolle Hamilton, 29, a graduate student at the University of Washington.
Voters in Washington have shown a marked preference for female candidates, and Berendt said Clinton’s candidacy will test that in new ways.
Women showed their support for Clinton Thursday night by lining up early outside Pier 30. At the front of the very long line was Elizabeth Curry, a senior at Olympic High School in Bremerton, and two of her friends who got out of school early to stake out their place.
Curry, 18, will attend her first precinct caucus Saturday. She said Clinton is not the insider choice among her age group.
But Curry said she thinks Clinton would fare better against the Republicans because she’s battle-tested. “She’s always so calm,” said Curry, who has watched several debates this year. “And when someone catches her off guard, she recovers so gracefully.”
Bronwyn Freer of Burien, who works on long-term-care issues for the state, is leaning toward Clinton but has yet to make a final decision. She said Clinton’s experience trumps Obama’s call for change.
“I don’t buy this thing about change,” she said. “Every presidential election they talk about change.”
Bonnie Tashchler, 66, said she’d watch Clinton Thursday and today planned to see Obama at KeyArena. She said she feels like she’s having to choose between heart and experience. And she hasn’t figured it out yet.
“I’m shopping around still,” she said.
Smith summed up the campaign as a fight between “enthusiasm and familiarity.”
“Everybody who knows Obama is really excited about him as a candidate,” he said. “But we’re battling her name recognition.”
Clinton and Obama don’t fit neatly into the categories of insider and insurgent, or as one who appeals to the heart and one to the head.
And Obama will not concede the electability fight. “The pragmatic choice here is Senator Obama,” Smith said. “I’ve heard Senator Clinton saying she’s been pounded on for 16 years, she’s been vetted where Barack has not.
“That’s true, you’ve been pounded on and somewhere between 50 and 51 percent of the country — depending on the poll — have decided that under no circumstances would they vote for you.”
David Postman: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org