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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Photos and notes from President Clinton's speech

After work yesterday, I headed downtown to line up for President Clinton's speech at the Grand Wayne. By the time I queued up at about 5, the line was 50 feet or so long; in the next 15 minutes, it stretched down the block; the police then turned the line back on itself so it doubled around.
Rumors were flying that "only 1,000 are getting in," but that turned out to be untrue. (The attendance estimate I later heard was 2,800.)
I also heard in the line that everyone was going to be searched, but that turned out not to be true, either. When the room opened up (about 6), we walked right in.
There was a heavy Ft. Wayne police presence, but I didn't notice any special security other than that (besides the two Secret Service guys who came in w/ the president).
What a mixed bunch we were, though! My immediate line-mates were IPFW students; a fair number of middle-aged and ladies; bunches of senior citizens, some in wheelchairs; families -- I thought to myself, a similar bunch of people I might find myself in line with anywhere in the city. Guess it takes a president to bring out any Allen County residents with even the least bit of Democrat in them.
The drizzle would have been very unpleasant if the temperature had been any cooler, and if I had not remembered my umbrella.
By the time I entered the room (and I don't know why they didn't open up the entire available space) it was half-filled; I grabbed a spot directly behind, and in the middle of, the media platform. This gave me a perfect view down the main aisle -- as long as the TV people didn't stand right in front of me.
I spent the next hour people watching and wishing I had eaten dinner before I arrived. Upbeat '80s music blared from the speakers. The local media gave live reports at 6, then talked to each other and arranged and re-arranged cameras, microphones, and computers. A few interviewed people around me. I noticed no national media; a South Bend station was there. The Clinton campaign people hurried around looking harried and important. A campaign person gave a testimonial (and that's what it was, I now know way too much about her rough childhood) and invited people to volunteer.
My biggest fear was how late the former president might be; the media people were taking bets among themselves about what time the speech might start. As it turned out, it was within half an hour of the schedule.
Sometime after 7, one of the Indiana Newscenter guys near me took a cell call and announced to everyone nearby, "He's in the building." Instant energy and action--all the media hopped up on the platform and aimed cameras and rearranged stuff some more; for the crowd, it was like a game of "telephone," as the news was repeated around the room--"He's here," "He's here."
There were some signs here and there--some union people; some young kids for Hillary, a rainbow sign or two--but no crazy demonstrations as you sometimes see on TV. Any organized cheering that started in a corner or two died quickly. The crowd seemed excited, but not ecstatic.
When the door opened and Mayor Henry, former governor Kernan, and President Clinton arrived, the cheering was at least enthusiastic, if not manic.
The welcoming words were short, thankfully--neither the mayor or former governor belabored their moment in the limelight, so it wasn't long before the president took the podium, to more cheers.
It was his standard stump speech, but with the true orator's gift, he was able to throw in enough local details to make it seem unique to us: he mentioned he didn't know Ft. Wayne was named after the general, "Mad Anthony," then tied that to how mad we should be about the present administration. He complimented the facility. He spoke of how for the first time in 40 years, Indiana is playing in important part in the Democratic primary, that we may be the state that puts Hillary over the delegate count for the nomination. Later in the speech, as he was noting that few think Hillary can take Indiana, he connected Indiana's rural character with that of New York state, saying that Hillary carried the rural counties of NY in the Senate race, so she can take Indiana, too.
No doubt: President Clinton can make a speech. He has the gift of making one feel -- despite he's a Rhodes scholar, world leader, etc. etc. -- that he's just a regular guy feeling your pain. Maybe it's the accent, maybe it's the easy humor, maybe he never has forgotten his "humble beginnings." Maybe it's calculated. Whatever--he can work the crowd.
He hit all the high points--the economy, the war, health insurance. He did not speak of immigration issues. And interesting to me, in that room, the issue that got the biggest response--his assertion that Hillary will change No Child Left Behind. Story and video about the speech here on wane.com»
The room was full--it began to get warm at one point, then I could feel air conditioning kick in--later in the speech, an older lady near me became faint and ended up on the floor. The paramedics quickly came forward to help, and she was conscious and talking. They helped her out.
I left quickly afterwards, but heard he signed autographs for awhile.
I don't know how many votes might be swayed by hearing someone's husband make a speech for them--even it that husband is a former president. I noticed quite a few people signing up to volunteer on the sheets at the back of the room, though--and maybe that's what the whole point of a visit like this. He mentioned what a difference personal calls from campaign volunteers made in a few states. The vote in May will tell.
My camera didn't take great pictures in the room, but there's few in this post: the line outside the Grand Wayne; some signage that kept walking by; the local media; the speechifying.

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