When Hillary Clinton walked onto the floor of the former UNCG recreation center on Thursday and the crowd erupted, she beamed bigger than she likely has in days. Fresh off a break after her battle with pneumonia became public, Clinton authoritatively took the stage in Greensboro as James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” blared from the speakers and quickly acknowledged her brief absence from the public eye.
“It’s great to be back on the campaign trail,” she said, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans, many of them high school and college-age students. Striking a conversational tone, Clinton said she tried to power through at first and said she isn’t great “at taking it easy,” but said ultimately she appreciated the break as a time to reflect.
It wouldn’t be until a day later that Clinton would quip that her sickness “finally got some Republicans to care about women’s health,” according to several reports on her remarks at the Black Women’s Agenda Symposium in Washington, DC.
As the former secretary of state and New York senator continued, saying she used the time off to catch up with old friends and play with the family’s dogs, two greasy-haired young men in white T-shirts, likely in their twenties, began heckling her from the left side of the stage, holding up signs that read “Puppet race/ voting is a scam” and “Hillary for prison 2016” as well as something vulgar referencing Monica Lewinsky.
After the brief interruption and the two men being escorted out, Clinton continued by talking about how for many Americans, taking a few days off to recuperate from being sick is a luxury they can’t afford. While a few demonstrators stood outside — some on the right with signs such as “Proud to be one of Donald’s deplorables” and others on the left with a banner reading “KKKlinton does not care about black people” — there wouldn’t be any more interruptions in Clinton’s remarks.
“Some things shouldn’t come down to luck,” Clinton said, condemning the fact that small health issues could be “catastrophic” for many families just trying to get by. “Some things should be in reach for everyone.”
But after the Democratic presidential nominee’s opening remarks, her speech mostly remained within the bounds of her usual talking points, reciting portions of canned speeches that avid election observers have heard over and over. She returned over and over to healthcare access and her legacy of fighting for families, particularly children. Clinton took a few swings at her opponent, including criticizing Donald Trump for lacking real policy plans, but she declined to dig into any of her own, instead directing people to her website for greater details.
“Like a lot of women, I have a tendency to over-prepare,” Clinton said, explaining that there are 38 in-depth policy positions on her website before quickly mentioning several key economic issues including raising the minimum wage and equal pay for women.
Clinton did use her Greensboro speech on Sept. 15 as an opportunity to talk about HB 2, saying that she is running for the LGBT teens that feel like second-class citizens after the law’s passage. Referencing the recent decisions by the NCAA and ACC to pull sports championships out of the state over the law, Clinton said the state and nation can’t afford the economic cost of bigotry.
Later in her speech, she referenced North Carolina’s former voter ID law, though not by name, saying that Republican lawmakers had tried to curb voting rights in the state and that this fact alone should be enough to motivate people to turn out to vote.
“The American Dream is big enough for everyone to share in its promise,” Clinton said towards the end of her speech before calling on the crowd to volunteer for the election effort across North Carolina.
Clinton briefly plugged early voting and encouraged people to support Deborah Ross’ campaign for US Senate, but didn’t mention any other North Carolina Democrats running in tight races this season. Ross aims to unseat Republican Sen. Richard Burr, but there are several other close contests relevant to a Greensboro audience, namely for governor and Michael Garrett’s attempt to unseat arch-conservative Trudy Wade from state Senate.
Unlike the Trump campaign, which has invited local candidates such as newcomer Ted Budd who is running for Congress onto the stage as openers, Clinton’s team didn’t use the Greensboro rally as an opportunity to share the microphone with down-ticket Democrats.
While Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and state Sen. Gladys Robinson were among the openers, Vaughan doesn’t have an election this year and Robinson faces gadfly Devin King in a district that heavily favors Democrats. Robinson threw a little shade towards Wade and Gov. Pat McCrory in her remarks, and Vaughan urged people to vote for Ross and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper in addition to Clinton. But for the most part, the big-ticket contests in the state were overlooked.
Clinton and her openers — all of them women, and most of them white — focused their energy on rallying the base through a combination of personal stories, facts and broader political narratives about healthcare, unity and economic inequality. And the crowd, many of them too young to have voted in past presidential elections, ate it up, repeatedly breaking into chants. But the real question is whether the call and response of “Fired up, ready to go” is more than a tagline, as Clinton and her supporters gear up for what she called “the most consequential vote of our lifetimes” in one of the most hotly contested swing states. As the presidential hopeful noted in her remarks, Sept. 15 marked just 54 days left until the results are in.