A wily campaigner resurfaces

by Jordan Green

President Clinton made the first of seven stops in a one-day swing through North Carolina at the Kathleen Price Bryan Family YMCA in Greensboro on March 28, one day after his wife’s speech at Forsyth Tech and two days after her opponent, Barack Obama, spoke to a rapturous crowd at War Memorial Auditorium.

Despite the early hour of about 8 a.m., a diverse audience that filled about half a gymnasium received the former president with enthusiasm as he made the case that Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic nominee for president.

“When he was president, jobs were up, the employment was up,” said Bryan Milliken, a self-employed house painter. “There wasn’t this war thing going on. He was more charismatic than George W. Bush. George Bush, he threw a wrench into the wheel.” Milliken added that although he hadn’t decided whether to support Hillary Clinton, he definitely would not cast his vote for Obama because he comes across as a “cult leader.”

After receiving an introduction from Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion, Bill Clinton basked briefly in the audience’s applause, outlined some policy points on healthcare, foreign diplomacy and technology, and joked about the privileges of being president.

The American people need a leader who “will not allow the trappings of the office to distract them from their obligations to the citizens,” he said, riffing later on how “your airplane is so cool they make movies about it,” and how it took him weeks to adjust to not having “Hail to the Chief” played every time he walked into a room after he left office.

“All the president is, is the world’s most fortunate public servant,” he said.

The former president said his wife is ahead in the polls in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, but winning North Carolina is critical.

“This state is very important,” he said. “It’s important, not only because of its size and diversity, but because North Carolina is always striving to transform itself into a modernized state.”

He hit many of the same notes as Obama: Most Americans have experienced more than six months of negative economic growth, with flattened incomes and rising household costs; the government should invest in technology to wean the country off gasoline-powered cars; students should receive financial breaks on college loans in exchange for performing community service; and trade agreements need to include environmental and labor standards.

Clinton said his wife has the most military support of any of the three candidates. He stated that “Hillary believes we have to bring our combat forces back from Iraq,” adding the caveat: “She would leave a small contingent, as you probably know in North Carolina, of Special Forces in the north to combat al-Qaida, because they are the enemy in the war on terror.

Marcus Cummings, an African-American construction worker, said he plans to vote for Clinton, but expects Obama to win the nomination.

“I think Hillary is the most experienced,” he said. “Obama promotes change. Experience is more important than change. You need someone who can get in there and understand the political system and the economy, and bring change to it. She’s sat in the White House and watched how it works.”

Bill Clinton’s talk took counterintuitive aim at the Obama campaign storyline, tilting against the notion that his wife enjoys the backing of the Democratic establishment while her opponent is the candidate of change.

“All the political establishment came out against her,” he said, “but the people said, ‘I think I’ll keep a change-maker.'”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at