Clinton (Bill) at Salem

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton at the Salem rope line/Stapilus

When the Clinton presidential campaign said it planned to campaign in Oregon, evidently it was serious: Five stops in the state by former President Bill Clinton in a 48-hour stretch still ongoing, and now the announcement Hillary Clinton will in state toward the end of the week.

If the Democratic frontrunner, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, wanted with his recent visit to the Northwest to draw the Clintons out of Pennsylvania for a while, it worked. In any event, Oregonians probably will be seeing a lot more of both campaigns before long, since even initial mail voting on the state’s primary still is more than a month off.

A few observations from Bill Clinton’s stop at Salem this afternoon:

Bill Clinton loves to campaign: You could see it. When he left Building 50 at the Chemeketa Community College after his speech, he walked out to say hello to the two or three hundred people outside, who didn’t get in. (The building held only about a thousand people.) He took his time with the overflow crowd, stopping and chatting, autographing books, holding a baby for maybe five minutes while people took pictures. For some politicians campaigning is a necessary chore en route to the goal; Bill Clinton clearly is one of those politicians who loves the campaigning. Watching him in action and the delight he takes in it, you couldn’t be surprised to see him run for county commissioner, just to do it all over again.

His speech was devoted, nearly entirely, to promoting his wife’s candidacy; references to his own presidency were tangential. His speech consisted mostly of a long series of bullet points covering the range of policy matters from health care and energy to Iraq. His speaking skills are honed to a fine enough level that it all flowed, and he was folksy at times. But the focus-grouped bullet-point construction of the stump speech was clear; it was thorough, but it didn’t inspire the way Clinton was sometimes able to do in the last decade. He got cheers periodically, but maybe less often than you might expect.

A question: Who and what were the people there to see? Plenty were there to support Hillary Clinton, of course, but a significant number were there mostly to watch Bill – to see the former president in action. More than a few people in the crowd, before the speech, were overheard remarking they weren’t especially planning to support her, and some didn’t know who they were going to vote for. But a former president was speaking in town, so they took the chance to hear him.

The odd circumstance of hecklers at Bill Clinton speeches this year continued at Salem. Though the heckler couldn’t be widely heard, Clinton engaged him: “You want to give this speech?” he responded at one point. “You’ve been trying to interrupt me ever since I started.”

Still, he made for quite a softening-up before the candidate’s appearance a few days hence.

ONE FURTHER THOUGHT Why the heavy two-step Clinton appearance in Oregon now, so far ahead of the election? Could it be part of an effort to send a message that, yes, they will still be around for the Oregon primary, on the back end of May?

Share on Facebook