Bill Clinton’s voice was hoarse and the acoustics in Phoenix Central High School’s gymnasium were less than ideal, but the former president had little difficultly bringing a thousand cheering Hillary Clinton supporters to their feet.
His message was simple: The political gridlock of the status quo is problematic, but all is not doomed if we elect Hillary, “the pragmatic candidate” with “specific proposals” and “an innate understanding of how to bring people together to get things done.”
Clinton spent much of Sunday evening delighting the crowd with stories about his time in the White House, Hillary’s political record, and people he’s met on the campaign trail. But he also did something politicians these days rarely do: he walked people through Hillary’s specific policy proposals, explaining both why they will work and why her rival’s plans don’t add up.
The crowd itself was also quite different, and far more diverse, than the crowds at recent rallies for Bernie Sanders, Trump, and Ted Cruz. Men, women, and children of all ages, races, and ethnicities filled the bleachers of the gymnasium.
There were elderly couples, and young couples with babies. There were men wearing baseball caps, and at least one young man with dreadlocks. There were women donning jeans and T-shirts while others wore fancy dresses and high heels.
The Clinton campaign, which clearly operates like a well-oiled machine, passed out blue “Hillary” signs, which audience members waved in the air or held high above their heads whenever Clinton or any of the other speakers said something they liked; the night began with speeches from Congressman Ruben Gallego, former Congressman Ed Pastor, civil-rights leader Dolores Heurta, and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.
At one point before Clinton took the stage, the crowd spontaneously erupted in chants of “Bill, Bill, Bill,” but for the most part the event was considerably more subdued than yesterday’s volatile Trump rally. That being said, Clinton’s famous magnetism and charisma was on point, and he effortlessly charmed the room.
He told a story about the first time he told his wife she should run for political office: “I was in awe of what she knew and how she got people together to do things. She has an innate understanding of how to get to the heart of something.”
“Are you kidding me?” he says she responded. “Do you really think anyone would even vote for a pushy woman like me?”
The crowd loved it, laughing and clapping.
Later in the night, he spoke at length about her plans to rapidly increase the amount of renewable energy the country harvests from solar and wind power and talked about her plans to reform the criminal justice system and bring about comprehensive immigration reform.
“She has also been — and I'm very proud of this — the most outspoken candidate in either party in saying [that] this idea that we are going to demonize Muslims and keep them out of America does not make a lick of sense. It is dangerous.”
A Hillary supporter said, “His speech was kind of what I expected, but it was really good. It was very optimistic, but [felt] doable. Hillary is definitely a doer.”
Another woman in the crowd, Donna Gratehouse, said she liked “that he gave a forceful defense of his wife and her life’s work,” and thought he successfully “outlined what all of her campaign points are and what she’s outlining to do [if elected president].”
Gratehouse said she understands why so many more young people are attracted to Sanders than Hillary Clinton: “Pragmatism isn’t as exciting to young folks,” she said. “Bernie’s message is more aspirational; her message is more practical. I don’t think they differ much on their vision, but I think hers has more chance of happening.” At the end of his speech, Clinton reviewed some of his wife’s biggest accomplishments and explained he has no doubt she’ll be a great president.
“So that’s my argument: She’s the best, most qualified person to be president,” he stated.
“She is always making something good happen,” he continued. “I know people are angry [throughout the country], but finally we are in the position to rise again.”
And with that, the crowd erupted in the loudest applause of the night, drowning out Clinton’s final appeal to help rally friends and family members to vote for Hillary in Tuesday’s Arizona presidential preference vote.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.