The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Bill Clinton rallies with McAuliffe in Richmond

Under a scalding sun at Richmond's 17th Street Farmer's Market, former President Bill Clinton rallied a 300-person crowd at 9:30 a.m. Monday for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, touting the candidate's commitment to creating jobs through green energy initiatives.

McAuliffe also listed increasing college affordability as one of his priorities, saying it was unacceptable that only 14 percent of Virginia college students currently received financial aid.

Clinton and McAuliffe stood on stage in front of a banner that read, "New energy for new jobs," surrounded by an energetic crowd holding signs with the same slogan. The endorsement aimed to prepare voters for the Commonwealth's June 9 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

McAuliffe, from McLean, Va., is setting his bid forth for the nomination against State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, and former Del. Brian J. Moran, D-Alexandria.

Deeds served in Virginia's General Assembly for 17 years, and Moran served 13 years and worked in the House Democratic Caucus before leaving in December to run for governor full time.

Both candidates have more governing experience than McAuliffe, who grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and is considered an outsider despite living in Fairfax County, Va., during the past 20 years.

The Democratic nominee will face Republican candidate Bob McDonnell, Virginia's former attorney general. McAuliffe said he admired the other Democratic candidates' experiences in office, although he thought his business background would give him more clout to help Virginia at a time of growing unemployment, where the rate had reached 20.2 percent in Mechanicsville and 19.5 percent in Williamsburg.

But any of the candidates were better than McDonnell, whose record of job creation was incomparable to his own, he said.

Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas for 12 years before running for the presidency in 1992, said he knew from experience how important it was for the president to have strong partnerships with governors. "I know a lot about this job," he said.

Council member Marty Jewell first appeared on stage, saying, "Now usually I have trouble choosing between democrats, but not this time."

Brian Benjamin, Richmond regional field director for McAuliffe, welcomed the crowd and encouraged them to volunteer for the campaign, shouting: "Are you ready for the last jobs-creating president? Are you ready for the next jobs-creating governor for the Commonwealth of Virginia?"

McAuliffe credited Clinton with creating 23 million new jobs during his time as president, and with being responsible for America's largest economic expansion. "We are a better country because of Bill Clinton," he said.

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Clinton acknowledged the country was now facing difficult times. "But we've taken a new direction and we're on our way back," he said, referring to the election of President Barack Obama.

McAuliffe, whom Clinton openly admitted was a close friend of his, was the Democratic National Chairman from 2001 to 2005, and was the chief fundraiser who helped raise millions of dollars for Clinton's 1992 and 1996 victories, and for Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful 2008 Democratic primary bid.

Clinton and McAuliffe have know each other for more than 20 years. Their families had gone on vacations together and Clinton had attended McAuliffe's father's funeral.

Clinton said McAuliffe's entrepreneurial abilities were first manifested at age 14, when he began his own business out of a red wagon, sealing driveways so he could start earning money for college. McAuliffe's business eventually outgrew his red wagon, he said, and his mother had to drive him to his job sites.

"Then he bought a truck before he was old enough to drive," Clinton said. "He's still the same person he was when he was 14."

Virginia needed to create new jobs every five to eight years in order to keep growing, Clinton said. "We need to change the way we produce and consume energy," he said. "That is the key to our economic future."

Republicans had not invested in job creation, he said.

"They see this [election] as an opportunity to create gains for 2012, but McAuliffe sees this as a way to gain economic recovery in Virginia."

If elected governor, McAuliffe also promised to increase early education funds; increase teacher's pay; build a high-speed rail between Washington, D.C., Hampton Roads and Richmond; and create a health care fund for people who lose their jobs.

Clinton continued to attack Republicans, calling Enron "the poster child for Republican economics."

"The Republicans see this as a an opportunity to show they are alive and well in a culturally traditional state -- but who cares?

"I've reached a point in my life where I can say whatever I want. Of course when you're an ex-president, nobody cares what you say."

Dan Palazzolo, University of Richmond professor of political science, said the effects of endorsements on elections tended to vary, but typically held greater influence for smaller elections.

Clinton was popular among democrats, he said, but it would be more important for him to work on McAuliffe's behalf by asking influential people to endorse him or contribute financially to his campaign.

He wasn't sure who would win the primary, he said, but thought Moran would have been the leading candidate if McAuliffe, who has been able to raise a lot of funds, had not decided to run.

Though democrats have held the governorship during the past two terms, history showed that a third term was difficult to repeat, giving McDonnell an advantage in the race. Generally certain states like Virginia also tended to elect members in the party opposite that of the Federal government, he said.

McDonnell was also a better candidate for governor than the ones the Republicans have been presenting during the past two terms, because he was more moderate and more personable, he said. Palazzolo called Virginia a "purple state," saying that the democrats were not going to dominate the election.

But a lot could happen between now and the final election in November, he said, such as McAuliffe raising more money, or the public could begin trusting Democrats more to take care of the economy, which would be the dominating topic during the campaign.

Terre Hooe, a business owner for a construction company who graduated from Richmond in 1984, said she wasn't sure whom she was going to vote for, but attended the rally because she wanted to see what each candidate had to say. She had canvassed for Obama during the presidential election, she said.

But she liked McAuliffe's message about job creation. "It's his top agenda, and that's definitely my top agenda -- getting work," she said.

James Mason Jr., a member of Boilermakers for McAuliffe for Governor from Portsmouth, Va., and a volunteer with the campaign, drove with coworkers from where he was stationed in Norfolk, Va., at 4 a.m., to attend the rally. He was also in support of McAuliffe's promise to bring more jobs to Virginia.

He had three children, he said, one who has a master's degree, while the other two were in school working on obtaining theirs. "I don't want my kids to just have the option of working at McDonalds," he said. "They need good jobs with benefits."

The Rev. Douglas Smith, executive director of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said he attended the rally because he was interested in seeing Clinton, whose presence he thought demonstrated the quality of the candidates in Virginia.

"I would like to see McDonnell bring Bush to Virginia so we can get both sides," he said.

He would not say whom he was voting for, Democrat or Republican, but said he was looking forward to the race.

After appearing in Richmond, Clinton also rallied with McAuliffe in Roanoke, Va., later that day.

Clinton last visited Richmond Jan. 26, when he was the keynote speaker for the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Virginia Democrats' largest annual fundraiser. He also campaigned for Obama in October 2008 at Virginia Commonwealth University.

McDonnell was outlining his energy plan in Norfolk and Bolling that same day, calling for increased drilling, greater use of traditional energy sources, such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear power, while also endorsing renewable energy.

Contact reporter Kimberly Leonard at kimberly.leonard@richmond.edu

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