ROCHESTER — Five hundred Hillary Clinton supporters packed into a modest-sized union hall, one with a main floor not much bigger than that of a healthy-proportioned fast-food restaurant.
One level below, another 250 people crammed into an overflow space of the Laborers Union Local No. 435 Hall. It was just after 4 p.m. All of them were awaiting former President Bill Clinton, en route from Buffalo to here, his third and final campaign stop of the day Tuesday on behalf of his wife, Hillary Clinton.
When Clinton finally arrived and took his place at the center of the small stage one minute before 6 p.m., the crowd got exactly what it likely envisioned: Charm. Tall, navy blue-suited, white-haired, Southern-accented Clinton charm.
The former president even joked with Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Kentucky native and longtime congresswoman from Fairport, about their mutual Southern drawl. “She’s been up here all this time and never lost her accent,” Clinton said after Slaughter introduced him.
The crowd – a friendly one at that, all emblazed with Hillary stickers – laughed accordingly. And that set the tone for what the speech was – and wasn’t – to be. Which was more wonky than punchy.
In his 40-minute speech, Clinton covered a broad span of policy issues, including health care, college tuition, banking reform, small-business creation, non-violent incarceration rates, and assistance for people with disabilities. In most cases, he wrapped his wife’s views around a story or anecdote, usually one tied to her eight-year tenure as a senator from New York. He pointed out that during Sen. Clinton’s time on Capitol Hill, her accomplishments tended to have Republican support.
- Bill Clinton offers Western New York campaignin’ and explainin’
- Photos: Bill Clinton visits Western New York
- Column: Primary spotlight makes rare, crucial shift to New York
“They’re being mean to her right now, but they don’t want to run against her,” he said. “I get it. I wouldn’t want to run against her.”
Clinton’s words were devoid of his any political lash-outs, the kind that are delivered with cutting charisma and leave behind gashes disguised with a grin. There were light jabs, sure, but Clinton launched no harsh attacks on Bernie Sanders. No verbal missiles at Donald Trump. And unlike his appearance hours earlier in Buffalo, there were few signs of protest inside or outside the venue. Even when a small group of people only feet away from Clinton started chanting about immigration during his speech, he quieted them with just a few words.
At the end of his speech, Clinton characterized his wife’s view on the campaign in a way that reflected his own remarks.
“Stop complaining ... stop blaming,” he said. “What are we going to do? That’s the kind of leader America needs now.”
After the speech, Clinton spent 20 minutes working the crowd, which included several people with disabilities. He spoke at length with several groups, posed for dozens of selfies, and seemed to take care to meet anyone in a wheelchair who managed to get close enough to catch his eye.