When we pulled into Rochester for Hillary Clinton’s town hall, the sight of a line beginning to form an hour before the doors were scheduled to open was a clear sign it would be bigger than the other town halls we’d seen. We had all received emails and phone calls from staff who wanted to make sure we were still planning on coming, but if they were worried about filling the room, the sight of the line around the building three hours before Hillary would take the stage must have reassured them.
We took the opportunity to interview some of the people who were willing to stand in line for hours before Clinton arrived. As we began asking questions, we soon understood that most of them were longtime Clinton supporters—most said “since the beginning,” and for many, that meant since the ‘90s.
The crowd was demographically similar to other events we’ve been to, though there were noticeably more older women present. They were a politically active and dedicated bunch; many had volunteered in past cycles (those not volunteering this month usually cited their bones in this weather as the biggest barrier). Though we all grumbled about the cold, waiting did not deter this crowd.
While they were full of enthusiasm for Hillary, the other motivating factor that many cited in our interviews was the need to protect Obama’s legacy. The mention of the Republican candidates and some of their extreme statements brought visible disgust to some faces; keeping a Republican out of the White House was a top priority.
The doors opened up a few minutes behind schedule, and the intense security did not help speed things along. The Secret Service, TSA, and local police all worked together to make sure we were thoroughly screened. For future reference: the TSA line moves considerably slower than the Secret Service line.
As we chatted with reporters in the main room while waiting for the rest of the line to trickle in, we immediately began to regret listening to “The Official Hillary 2016 Playlist” on Spotify on the drive up from Manchester, as the same 10 songs played on a loop for the next two hours. Some staffer was given the job of finding the perfect music to reflect Hillary’s new image, and with songs like “The Fighter,” “Roar,” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” we understood the message loud and clear.
While it felt like the line and security situation could have been better organized, the professionalism of Hillary’s campaign showed through once we saw the perfectly set up stage. A huge American flag served as the backdrop, local volunteers were invited to sit on the stage and given strategically placed Hillary signs, and the lighting made even iPhone pictures look good. After everyone in line finally made it through the metal detectors, Colin Van Ostern, a candidate for governor in New Hampshire, got up on stage to introduce Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Clinton.
Shaheen focused on Clinton’s ability to get things done, a theme Clinton expanded upon during her speech. She portrayed herself as the clear alternative to the Republican field, the one who would protect Obama’s progress instead of “ripping it up.” Unlike at some of the town halls we’ve been to with many undecided voters, this group of dedicated supporters roared with applause at each of Clinton’s clap lines.
Her main focus was the economy, and she distinguished herself from the Republicans in her desire to make it “work for everyone.” She appealed to the liberal base through economic policy, saying that she is the only candidate who has pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class, and will raise them on the millionaires and billionaires instead. She touted her plan for Wall Street reform and said that some have called it tougher than Bernie’s plan; her assurance that there will be “no bank too big to fail and no executive too big to jail” was met with loud applause. She also touched on other aspects of her economic policy, highlighting her plans to crack down on hedge funds and the shadow banking system.
The story that perhaps resonated with the crowd the most, though, was about a conversation she had with a young man who found that as a teenager, he was making more than his mother, who had worked at the same store for four years and had helped him get the job. There was a collective gasp that spread across the opera house. She used the moment to call for the Paycheck Fairness Act and linked it to raising the minimum wage by pointing out that 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women. The room exploded with applause.
Surrounded by a couple hundred cheering supporters, Hillary looked comfortable on stage. There were a few slightly awkward moments, such as a weird line about how much Bill loves New Hampshire, but her polished performance was a clear effort to portray herself as the most experienced candidate, and one who will fight for Democratic values.
We unfortunately had to head out before the questions began, but we’ve now seen all of the Democratic candidates–we’re still working on the (much longer) list of Republicans. Keep following along for more updates!
Miles on the road: 195