Sen. Hillary Clinton made her first public appearance as a surrogate for Barack Obama on Thursday, in the process made a strong case to the Latino-American audience to which she spoke that the man who vanquished her in the Democratic primary was now the best choice to be elected president.
Appearing before the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials (NALEO), Clinton did not even mention Obama's opponent, John McCain. Instead she laid out a comprehensive case for why the Illinois Democrat was best suited to advance the issues of the Latino community, in the process evoking her own campaign experience.
"I know this was a hard fought primary campaign, and I am very grateful for the passion and determination of those who supported me," she said as an audience member screamed, "we love you Hillary!"
"But every issue you care about personally," she continued, "every issue your constituents care about and every issue NALEO is fighting for is really at risk. We cannot afford four more years of the same. It wouldn't be good for us. We have to chart a new course and we cannot do that without electing Senator Obama our next president."
The crowd was passionate in its approval. On several occasions cheers interrupted the Senator's roughly 15-minute speech. Nevertheless, Clinton seemed comfortable on the podium, only once appearing the least bit emotional over the defeat of her candidacy. The crowd, meanwhile, offered cheers at the mentioning of Obama's name, suggesting that the fissures created in the primary fight may be closer to being healed.
"I know Senator Obama," Clinton said. "I have served with him now for four years in the Senate I campaigned with him for 16 months on the campaign trail I have stood on the stage for 22 debates, but who is counting? ... In his own life he has lived the American dream and as a community organizer, state senator, and U.S. Senator he has worked to make that dream possible for others."
She went on: "Your passionate engagement moved our nation forward and I don't want to see that forgotten or overlooked I want to see participation by Latino voters continue to grow and more Hispanics join the ranks as elected members. I believe firmly the best way to continue this fight is to elect Barack Obama as our next president. The Latino community has felt the effects of the policies of the past eight years, president bush has set our nation backwards."
Clinton's appearance marks her reemergence on the campaign scene. In the Democratic primary, she racked up big wins over Obama among the Latino community. And with the Illinois Democrat hoping to contend in Western states like Nevada and Colorado her connection to that constituency will undoubtedly help.
Toward the end of the primary, Clinton's surrogates -- most notably Terry McAuliffe -- argued that Obama would struggle with Hispanic voters. But such predictions have, so far, turned out not to be true. A recent Gallup poll showed the Senator winning 62 percent of registered Latino voters nationwide, with McCain at 29 percent. His popularity level bests that of John Kerry during the 2004 election.
And Democrats clearly believe that McCain has a weakness on the topic of immigration, due in large part to his proclamation, made during the Republican primary, that he would abandon immigration reform unless it started with border security. One of the Senate's foremost Latinos, Robert Menendez, said McCain had "walked away" from the Latino community and is not a "person of principle" during an interview with the Huffington Post. And, preceding Clinton at the NALEAO conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered that, "[McCain's] new position on immigration reform is so extreme, it has won him the endorsement of Tom Tancredo," the hard-lined anti-immigration representative from Colorado.
Both Senators Obama and McCain are scheduled to address the NALAEO Conference on Saturday. Since ending her bid for the Democratic nomination, Clinton had spent several weeks away from the media spotlight. On Wednesday she returned to Capitol Hill and this evening she and Obama will appear at a joint fundraiser designed to help retire her campaign debt.
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