RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 10 — If the receptions Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton respectively received at a gathering of influential Democrats last night in Richmond is any indication, Clinton is in for another tough result when Virginia holds its primary on Tuesday.
The stark difference in enthusiasm was noticeable even in passing. Outside the Stuart C. Siegel Center, which played host to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, a couple hundred of Obama supporters beating drums, wearing paper Obama masks and holding giant white letters spelling Obama’s name urged passing cars to honk. Many of them did.
A quieter group of Hillary supporters had less success.
Inside, there was more of that. The same giant cardboard Obama letters flanked the dozens of crowded tables on the floor, and dwarfed the “Hillary” signs lined up between the A, the M and the A. From the stage, past and current governors of Virginia boasted about their endorsements for Obama. Chants of O-ba-ma broke out intermittently from the rafters.
Clinton, her hair flatter than usual and her chances sinking in Washington and Nebraska, soldiered through.
Taking the podium under an enormous Jumbo screen, Clinton struck positive and even sweeping notes that received solid, if not ecstatic, applause from the crowd.
”Hello, Virginian Democrats—that sounds so good,” said Clinton. “I am delighted and honored to be here with you this evening.”
Clinton thanked Virginians for electing Senator Jim Webb and expressed her hope for the election to the Senate of Mark Warner, who ran for president last year as a moderate Democrat, but was essentially forced out of the race by his inability to compete with Clinton for that space.
As Clinton spoke about how the next president would be inaugurated with “his or her hand on the Bible” and talked about mortgages and tuitions voters couldn’t afford, a television anchor stood up on a riser and told his camera about Obama’s overwhelming victories in Nebraska and Washington as they became official.
Clinton had only pleasant words for her rival, though she draw the usual contrast with Obama (and John McCain) by saying that she is the “only candidate left in this race, Democrat or Republican, with a health care plan that will cover every single man woman and child.”
Other than that, her sights fell on President George Bush and the likely Republican nominee, John McCain.
Bush’s way, said Clinton, was to “shred the constitution,” and “smear dissenters” and said that with “Senator McCain as the likely Republican nominee, Republicans have chosen more of the same.”
In perhaps her best-received line of the night, Clinton said “President Bush has already put his stamp of approval on Senator McCain’s conservative credentials”—she waited a beat, then smiled—“and I’m sure that will help.” Addressing her opponent’s criticism that she had too much in common with Bush, Clinton argued “I will be among those most happy to see the moving van leaving the White House” and announced herself “ready to go toe-to-toe with Senator McCain whenever and wherever he desires.”
With Mr Inspiration and Hope due to take the stage later in the evening, Clinton did her best to make remarks with some historic and narrative sweep. Judging from the audience’s reaction, it wasn’t a bad effort.
Her “I see an America” refrain (in which the country she envisions stands up to oil companies, employs the unemployed, builds schools, makes college affordable) was followed by her taking a step back to appreciate the historic scope of the election. “Neither Senator Obama, nor I, nor many of you in this room were included in that original vision,” she said, but evoked “a movement of men and women”—the abolitionists, suffragists, progressives and civil rights activists—who made the voting rights shared by the diverse group of people in the room something everyone now took “for granted.”
She folded herself into a narrative that seems most closely associated now with Obama, that the next generation would “take it for granted that a woman or an African-American can be president of the United States.”
“That is the genius of our Constitution” she said. “It was crafted to expand as our hearts do.”
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