Hillary Clinton may claim she’s not a natural politician, but her rally this afternoon at a Phoenix high school suggests otherwise.
From the moment she walked onstage — “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten booming in the background — the Democratic front-runner brought a genuine, palpable energy that the crowd just ate up.
Some were chanting: “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary!” while others waved blue campaign signs, jumping up and down or rocking out to the music. She greeted her supporters with a big wave and a huge smile, and then posed for a few selfies before beginning.
“Well, tomorrow's the big day right here in Arizona, huh?” she said as the crowd cheered. “The stakes in this election are getting higher and higher while the rhetoric on the other side just keeps getting lower and lower.”
Someone in the crowd then screamed, “We want you,” to which Clinton responded, “I want you to want me!” Both she and the audience erupted into laughter, and many began chanting: “We love you, we love you, we love you.”
The entirety of her speech lasted about 20 minutes, and she spent a great deal of time weaving her major policy talking points — immigration reform, gun control, education, healthcare, and foreign policy – with stories of people she’s met on the campaign trail or anecdotes about her past accomplishments.
It wasn’t a particularly substantive speech, which is a little surprising given that this was her first time campaigning in Arizona this year, but she received multiple standing ovations with lines like:
“I’m not proposing free college like my esteemed opponent [because] I am not going to ask you to pay for Donald Trump’s youngest child to go to college,” and, “You know what, folks – anger isn’t a strategy … We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
But, overall, it wasn’t what she said that made the event special; it was the way she interacted with the crowd that set apart her event from those of the other presidential candidates campaigning in the state.
As soon as she was done talking, Clinton stepped off the stage and into the crowd. Hundreds of people swarmed around her, their arms outstretched with cell phones in hand, hoping to catch a photo of their candidate.
For at least 15 minutes, as loud music by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Pharrell Williams played and some audience members danced in the bleachers, Clinton made her way from one side of the room to the other, posing for literally hundreds of selfies.
Though surrounded by a massive crowd, Clinton actually looked like she was enjoying herself. And reciprocally, those who managed to get a photo with her, or even just a handshake, walked away beaming – one group of young girls passed a cell phone back and forth, taking turns gushing over the photo one of them had taken with Clinton.
Unlike the rock concert vibe of a Bernie Sanders event, Clinton’s first public visit to Arizona this election season was held in a much smaller venue — her campaign has consistently prioritized intimacy over some sort of mega-rally feel.
This is not to say she didn’t draw a big crowd. According to the campaign, the fire marshal capped the number of people inside at 1,355, but a few hundred people who were unable to fit in the gymnasium stood outside and listened to what was being said over loudspeakers.
We’ve written a lot about enthusiastic Sanders fans – and, in fact, there were about a dozen Sanders supporters peacefully protesting Clinton’s event with chants like: “Trump bans Muslims, Hillary bombs Muslims” – but Clinton’s devoted fans lined up hours before she took the stage, standing in a line that snaked down the street and around the block while the sun beamed down on them.
“We have too much to lose – Arizona has too much to lose in this election, which is why we need to elect Hillary Clinton,” Mark Kelly, who spoke at the event tonight, told the crowd as his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, stood next to him.
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“We have a fighter in the White House, and we need another fighter in the White House” said Tom Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor. “[Clinton] understands it’s not about whether you have big hands, it’s about whether you have steady hands,” he added as the crowd roared with laughter.
Arizonans will cast their ballots in tomorrow’s presidential preference vote, and according to both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, it’s going to be a tight race for the majority of Democratic delegates.
“It’s been deeply distressing to me to see the divisiveness, the mean-spiritedness of this campaign ... I’ve never seen anything like it,” Clinton said at the end of her speech.
“I will do whatever I can to find common ground, to bring groups of Americans together,” she added. “Let’s have the future we deserve in America.”