Bill Clinton arrived in Redding Thursday on a predictably scorching triple-digit afternoon to speak on behalf of Hillary Clinton, his wife and presidential candidate.
The Shasta College cafeteria was the venue, though outside, crowds had been forming for hours in anticipation of hearing the 42nd president of the United States, there to drum up support for his wife in a state where the race is close and the stakes are high.
Aaron Lee Rasmussen, 27, of Shasta Lake City was first in line. He said the spot was open when he arrived at 10:30 a.m.
“Honestly, I really wanted to be here because it’s a historic event,” he said. “Really, I imagined there’d be a lot more people. I was surprised I was the first one here.”
But Rasmussen said that history aside, he was there to hear Hillary’s message, delivered by her husband.
“She’s definitely the best candidate,” he said. “She stands for a lot of my values.”
Further down the line was a pair of friends, too young to vote, but there to support Hillary anyway. They held paper Bill and Hillary masks as a show of support.
“We really like Bill,” Ashley said. “And we want Hillary to win. I like how she’s a strong and independent woman, and I like her views on things.”
Well-prepared north staters brought water, umbrellas, and even a few pop-up structures for comfort. Some people also brought chairs to make the wait in line more tolerable, like Belinda Sidwell of Cottonwood, and daughter Theresa Ban of Chico.
The women said they arrived at 2:30 p.m. to secure a spot close to the doors. They laughed and said that their choice of Hillary Clinton for president is one of the few things the mother and daughter agree upon, because they both see Hillary Clinton as the only logical choice.
“We’re excited about Hillary becoming president,” Sidwell said.
“She’s a progressive pragmatist,” daughter Ban said.
When it was pointed out to Ban, of Chico, that Bernie Sanders was in Chico while she was in Redding, Ban smiled.
“Yes, but my lady’s here,” she said, referring to the Hillary event at Shasta College.
Meanwhile, as the line and the crowd expanded outside in the heat, inside the air conditioned cafeteria were campaign and party volunteers, media, law enforcement and dignitaries who mulled around as the band Gringo of Redding acted as a defacto warm-up show.
By about 6 p.m. the doors were open to the public who flooded the room and raced to secure spots as close as possible to the railings draped in patriotic bunting in front of the platform where Clinton was scheduled to speak at 7 p.m.
The white-haired Clinton – dressed in a navy blazer, navy cotton slacks, a red polo shirt and black cowboy boots – bounded up the stairs of the platform to the amplified notes of Pharrell Williams’ “Cuz I’m Happy,” as he shook hands with and then hugged Congressman John Garamendi. Then Clinton got right to the business of talking.
Clinton was a model poster child for perfect public speaking 101 as he artfully wove together statistics, poetry, historical facts, policy and politics with humor and high intellect in a 40-minute speech that delighted, entertained, moved and captivated the crowd inside the cafeteria. As he spoke, hundreds of more people who couldn’t fit inside what appeared an over-capacity room remained in the heat to listen to Clinton via simulcast, literally on the outside looking in through massive glass doors and windows.
He appealed to the middle class and said the median family income was lower than when he left office. He encouraged big-picture thinking and said that the problems we suffer in the United States are happening worldwide.
“People all over the world are screaming because of a declining middle-class income, rising inequality, reduced social mobility and a feeling that the borders behind which they live aren’t secure,” he said.
He implored people to treat fellow citizens of the world with bridges, not walls, to choose prosperity, rather than fight over a shrinking pie, and finally, to choose a “future economy, rather than an imagined past,” which led nicely to a scarcely veiled jab at “the Republican nominee’s” promise.
He mocked the slogan, “Make America great again,” which he said is another way of saying, “I’ll make it the way it used to be,” which Clinton said didn’t work out so well for half of all Americans.
All the while the crowd cheered, laughed, held up cell phones and waved flags. One woman standing front and center even waved what looked like a Barbie-sized Hillary Clinton doll, decked out in a tiny pink pants suit.
Clearly, Clinton could feel the love. He was in his ultimate, easy-going, laid-back element as he smiled, gestured and sauntered across the platform, much like a brilliant professor with so much information and so little time.
With barely a glance at the notes in his blue folder, he listed some of America’s most pressing problems – issues about which Hillary has ideas for solutions: immigration, veterans with PTSD, high numbers of young people incarcerated for non-violent crimes, high poverty, high unemployment, unavailable health care, and an epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction.
He didn’t miss a beat, walking back and forth, sometimes with one hand in a pocket. And as he moved, his eyes scanned the audience, from person to person.
No wonder I heard a few people say exactly what I’d thought, too.
“He looked right at me! More than once!”
At one point, Clinton waxed pretend for a moment, imaging himself at 25 years old again, holding a magic lamp with a genie inside, and before he could finish the story set-up, there were some knowing chuckles in the audience, imaging a Bill Clinton at 25, with a magic lamp to grant his heart’s desire. At is turned out, he said his wish would have been to live nowhere else on Earth except the United States of America.
And although this rally was ostensibly about Hillary, that fact was easy to forget as Bill Clinton – so warm and charming and likable – engaged in verbal sidebars a few times, “not as Hillary’s husband, but as a former president.”
Certainly, that is a bonus presidential perspective that most candidate’s spouses can’t bring to the table, but as one man in the audience said, “This kind of makes me wish Bill Clinton were the one running for office again.”
And with that, Clinton’s talk was over. Forty minutes had flown by. Up surged the music again, Cuz I’m Happy. Down the steps Clinton walked, surrounded by a cluster of suited, unsmiling men, directly toward the crush of people. He removed his sport coat, and started walking along the platform side of the barricade where he pressed in and reached out to shake one hand after another.
I was right there, and so was my cell phone, and its dead battery. And before I knew it, there was Bill Clinton, inches from me. He extended his hand and shook mine. And then he was gone, working the crowd, posing for selfies, chatting briefly, moving along as the music changed to “Roar”, and finally, “Stronger”.
People stood on chairs, they waved and clapped and did long-shot selfies with Bill Clinton in the background, moving through the masses, smiling all the way.
A woman passed by and commented that this was a rare sight in Redding, with so many Democrats in one place.
“But it’s kind of nice, you know?”
Outside, a long rope held back the hundreds of people who had never made it inside.
“We kept hoping he’d come out,” said Pam Wood as she strained to see beyond the glass doors. “I’m disappointed, but at least we got to hear him. I think they underestimated how many people would show up today.”
Most people headed for their cars, but the diehards went around to the lawn behind the cafeteria, where police stood watch, keeping people back, well away from the quartet of SUVs waiting for Clinton and his staff.
Sri Nune was among the hundred or so people who waited on the grass in the shade of the oaks. He was there with his wife and 16-year-old son, Javis Nune.
“I thought it was awesome that Bill Clinton came even for this short time to talk with us,” the elder Nune said. “I’m very grateful.”
Nune’s son added that he was impressed with Clinton’s intelligence, and the way he connected with the people.
“When he spoke, he had such a great way of communicating,” he said. “He really treated us as friends, not just an audience.”