Hillary Clinton brought her reminiscing tour of upstate New York to Buffalo on Friday, simultaneously touting her long-ago record as a U.S. senator and her current agenda as the Democratic presidential front-runner as reasons for voters to choose her in New York’s April 19 primary.
Sixteen years after coming to Buffalo on a “listening tour” that helped propel her to the Senate, Clinton finds herself in an unexpectedly tough battle for the Democratic nomination with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an idealistic democratic socialist whose promises of a political “revolution,” a Wall Street crackdown and free college tuition have captured the hearts of young and reform-minded voters.
In four campaign stops in Buffalo on Friday, Clinton presented herself as something different: a tested, veteran leader who got things done in Buffalo and Washington – a politician whose record proves that she’s “qualified” to be president no matter what Sanders says.
“Seriously, I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, but unqualified is not one of them,” Clinton, also a former first lady and secretary of state, said at a raucous rally of about 2,000 people at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum.
That rally was the centerpiece of a whirlwind day that took Clinton from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to the Pierce-Arrow to Golden Cup Coffee on the East Side to Charlie the Butcher in Williamsville.
And it all took place amid the backdrop of an increasingly tense battle for the Democratic nomination.
While Clinton holds an almost insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders, the Vermont senator has won six of the last seven contests. And with the opportunities to catch up with Clinton dwindling, Sanders has ratcheted up the rhetoric.
Responding to a Washington Post story in which Clinton appeared to question Sanders’ qualifications, Sanders said Wednesday at a rally in Philadelphia: “I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC.”
That prompted a spirited defense of Clinton’s qualifications from both her and husband, former President Bill Clinton – and finally, a retraction of sorts from Sanders.
Asked about the issue on the Today Show on Friday, Sanders said “of course” Clinton is qualified.
“On her worst day, she would be an infinitely better president than either of the Republican candidates,” added Sanders, who has said he will support Clinton if she wins the nomination.
Not done yet, Clinton returned to the subject of her qualifications at the rally in Buffalo.
“This is all pretty silly,” she said. “The question in this election should be who can actually get things done.”
Clinton spent most of the day Friday dwelling on that point.
After a tour of the Jacobs Institute at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, she settled into a roundtable discussion there that centered in part on her efforts as a senator to get federal funds for the facility.
Noting that the Medical Campus now hosts 100 companies and 12,000 jobs, Clinton said: “That’s a huge accomplishment. We’ve got to keep building that.”
Clinton went from the Medical Campus to the rally, where she dropped sections of her usual stump speech to insert passages about all she accomplished locally in the Senate. Everything got a mention, from the Medical Campus to the 2005 fight to save the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to the creation of Artspace.
All of that work contributed to the renaissance Buffalo is enjoying today, she said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Buffalo is on the rise,” she said.
And soon, Clinton said to cheers from the crowd, “I think I might be in a pretty good position to help you even more.”
Noting that delivering on campaign promises should be a central goal of any president, Clinton then recited a checklist of moderate progressive policy ideas that, in her view, could help the local economy while helping the nation.
Infrastructure spending, better Internet service, green energy initiatives, 3D printing, small business and increased scientific research all rated mentions.
“These are good jobs that can’t be exported,” said Clinton, who has been under fire for supporting trade agreements with Mexico and China earlier in her long career. “They have to be done here.”
Clinton then turned back to Sanders, criticizing his proposal for free tuition at public colleges and universities.
Noting that a tax increase would pay for two-thirds of the cost of that, she said: “I’m not going to ask anyone to pay taxes to pay for college for my grandkids or Donald Trump’s grandkids. I want help aimed at middle-class families, working families.”
Clinton then reviewed her own, more modest college affordability plan, which centers on refinancing student loans.
Similarly, she criticized Sanders for proposing to replace the Affordable Care Act with a government-run health care plan, which she called “more than a long shot.” Instead, she said, the health plan known as Obamacare ought to be improved, not abandoned.
Despite the policy-heavy nature of much of Clinton’s address, the people in the mixed-race crowd – many of them middle-aged and older – appeared to love it.
“It was great,” said Richie Casado, of Buffalo, who said he appreciated the fact that Clinton’s proposals were very detailed. “It was refreshing listening to her ideas, plans for the economy and health care, to listen to all her points,” he said.
Meantime, Kim Flattery and her adult daughters, Allison and Stephanie, offered a variety of reasons why they support Clinton.
“She was an amazing senator,” said Kim Flattery, 61, of East Aurora. “She can get things done. She is a doer.”
As for Allison and Stephanie Flattery, both said they are excited that Clinton could become the first woman president.
“It is time, but I’m not voting for her because she is a woman,” Stephanie Flattery said. “She is qualified.”
One thing is for sure: Clinton is campaigning hard to become president. After the appearances at the medical campus and the rally, her entourage made an unannounced stop at Gold Cup Coffee Company on Jefferson Avenue, where she ordered a cup of “Buffalo roast” and shook hands afterwards.
Then it was on to Charlie the Butcher in Williamsville, where Clinton and her staff and a legion of journalists picked up a 4:30 p.m. lunch to take on the short flight to her next stop on the upstate tour: Rochester.
She couldn’t do that without posing for pictures with owner Charlie Roesch and answering a few questions from reporters, who of course dwelled on her conflict with Sanders and recent poll numbers that show Americans with a negative view of her.
She said she wasn’t worried about either.
“I know here in New York, I had to work hard to win New Yorkers’ trust and support, and I was honored to be able to do that,” she said. “People actually saw me in action. They saw the results of what I was able to achieve for them, for their families. And I’m very confident that that will happen in the country, too.”
News Staff Reporter Susan Schulman contributed to this report. email: email@example.com