Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hillary Clinton reaches out to moderates in N.C.

Hillary Clinton reaches out to moderates in N.C.

(Raleigh) News & Observer
MCTDemocratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses a crowd at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thursday, April 24, 2008. (Corey Lowenstein/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
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FAYETTEVILLE --Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to North Carolina today, reaching out to more moderate Democratic voters with a display of military brass, mentions of her Methodism, and promises to end the Iraq war “responsibly.”

Hoping to build on her victory in Pennsylvania, Clinton sought to connect with the traditional values of rural working class people. She was accompanied by eight retired generals as she stumped around the state courting voters living near military bases and mountains. “I know I am starting off behind,” Clinton said, alluding to polls showing her rival Sen. Barack Obama with a double digit lead in the state. “But I'm still going to work as hard as I can to reach as many voters as I can. I have been very specific in this campaign. The problems demand solutions, not speeches.” She received the loudest applause from the 1,500 people in a gym at Methodist College when she chided Obama for turning down a debate proposed by the state Democratic Party that would have been held in Raleigh on Sunday.

“I have said I will debate any time anywhere,” Clinton said.”I think you deserve your own debate. It's been a long time since you have been part of a contested Democratic primary.” (Actually, Clinton initially turned down a North Carolina debate that Obama had agreed to because it was on a Jewish holiday.)

Clinton's first post-Pennsylvania stop in the state underscored her strategy of courting more moderate, rural and blue collar voters – the same formula that allowed her to win in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Today she campaigned in Fayetteville, the home of the Army's Fort Bragg, and in Asheville. Friday she will will be in Jacksonville, near the Camp LeJeune marine corps base.

She also met privately with members of the N.C. Troopers Association today. And she announced the formation of a veterans “caravan” that will travel around the state on her behalf.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also has concentrated his campaigning in small town North Carolina. During her speech she mentioned her own Methodist faith, and twice referred to God in an anecdote about Shelton's recovery from a serious injury several years ago. She scored points with Valerie Quick, the 46-year old owner of a small computer business in Fayetteville and the wife of a disabled veteran.

“The Clintons did a very good job of taking care of the working man,” said Quick. As for Obama: “I don't think he has enough experience. He doesn't have enough years behind him.”

Clinton touted her experience as a senator for eight years and as First Lady in the White House for another eight years.

“We need a commander-in-chief who is ready on day one to keep our country safe,” said Clinton, who spoke under a banner that read: “SOLUTIONS FOR A STRONG MILITARY.”

She said she understood the precarious nature of the war in Iraq, and how it would not be easy to bring American troops home “responsibly.” But she also said that after giving Iraqis their freedom it was time for them to make their own decisions.

Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under the Clintons and a North Carolina native, introduced Clinton.

“She is the only candidate with a responsible plan for bringing our troops home with honor,” Shelton said.

Clinton promised to end the so-called “stop loss” policy of keeping troops in the military beyond their contractual time, enact a new “GI bill of rights” to pay for veterans to go to college and help with housing and starting a business, and improve funding and services in the Veterans Administration, which she said had been neglected during the Bush administration.

The Obama campaign announced the creation of a North Carolina Veterans for Obama effort today.

“As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Obama has one of the strongest track records of fighting for veterans and their families,” said Paul Bucha, a Medal of Honor winner, in a statement.

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