Shortly after Sen. Hillary Clinton gave her victory speech following a decisive primary win in West Virginia Tuesday, her husband climbed onto the flatbed of a red Dodge truck in Kalispell and told a shivering crowd of thousands they would “never ever ever have a chance to vote for somebody who is a better change-maker” than his wife.
Bill Clinton arrived at Flathead Valley Community College an hour later than the 7:30 p.m. scheduled time of his speech, but despite the chilly, rainy weather, a massive crowd waited to hear the former president stump for his wife and make the case that she is a better choice for the Democratic presidential nomination than her opponent, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Introduced by Rep. Mike Jopek of Whitefish and Kalispell Mayor Pam Kennedy, Clinton spoke for about 40 minutes to a crowd of more than 2,800, according to FVCC event organizers, on topics ranging from wind power to improving hybrid cars, and from healthcare to the Iraq War.
Locked in a prolonged primary battle, Obama holds the advantage over Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, and he has drawn within 150 delegates of the 2,025 required for the nomination. Three of Montana’s eight superdelegates have endorsed Obama, and a fourth has indicated she will support him. With four states – including Montana on June 3 – and Puerto Rico left to vote in the primary, Clinton’s hopes for the nomination appear slimmer by the day. But you couldn’t tell that from the crowd in the Flathead.
“If someone tells you you can’t win, it’s because you can, and they are afraid you will,” said Pres. Clinton, who has stumped in 13 towns in Oregon over the last two days in the run-up to its May 20 primary. “This race is not over.”
But Clinton refrained from criticizing Obama, saying the party would remain united regardless of who receives the nomination.
Clinton said oil was unlikely to ever be cheap again and touted his wife’s plans to develop alternative energy sources, particularly by building a modern network of transmission lines to get wind-generated power ranging from Texas to Montana to market. He also described Hillary’s plans to advance battery technology in hybrid cars and her plan to offer tax credits to people who purchase plug-in vehicles.
He went on to blast Pres. Bush’s education initiative, No Child Left Behind, saying “it will never work,” and said his wife’s plans would make college more affordable. Clinton touched on healthcare reform, disparaged the use of military contractors in Iraq, and criticized the Bush administration for what he called the politicization and under-funding of scientific research.
Clinton also called the increase in children with autistic conditions one of the major health issues facing the United States.
“We are tripling the number of children with autistic conditions every 15 years,” he said. “Nobody can tell you a thing about it.”
“They don’t know because we are not investing in stem cell research, in human genome research,” he added.
Rebecca Kelly, 53, of Kalispell, was the first person on line to see the former president, arriving more than three hours before he eventually began speaking.
“I’m a little frustrated with the media, trying to give her all the exit plans,” Kelly said. “She’s got a lot of supporters out there that believe in what she’s doing.”
But it was difficult to tell how many in the crowd were Hillary Clinton supporters, and how many were people who came out to see a former president, and witness one of the biggest political spectacles in recent Flathead history.
After Clinton’s speech, Bill Dakin, 59, of Columbia Falls watched the former president shake hands and talk with the crowd until after 10 p.m. Although he is leaning toward Obama, Dakin enjoyed the speech.
“He’s a very powerful speaker and he makes a terrifically strong case for Hillary Clinton,” Dakin said.
“It’s so refreshing to hear a president speak in complete sentences,” Dakin added. “I’ve forgotten what it was like.”
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