Clinton Sells Age and Experience, Austin Crowd Buys

030408 clinton2 web Clinton Sells Age and Experience, Austin Crowd BuysAUSTIN, Texas—Last night, at her final pre-election rally here in Texas, Hillary Clinton once again invoked the prospect of a 3 a.m. call to the White House.

She told a crowd of around 3000 at the Burger Center sports facility that they should choose whichever candidate they would prefer to answer such a call.

Clinton also said that there was a big difference between “rhetoric and reality.”

Those isolated moments aside, however, she largely abjured the kind of full-frontal attack she has made on Obama elsewhere in recent days.

Two of the biggest ovations during Clinton’s 27-minute address came for an attack on President Bush and for a glancing allusion to her personal history.

Referring to the high price of gas, Clinton said, “If we had a president who wouldn’t just hold hands with the Saudis but would actually hold them accountable, we might be able to make some progress.”

And as she recalled living in Texas in 1972 while working on George McGovern’s presidential campaign, she said, “Now, granted, I am a little older”, then paused and added, “And I have earned every wrinkle on my face.” The comment elicited loud cheers.

Chelsea Clinton shared the stage with her mother, though she did not speak. Clinton-backing celebrity couple Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen were also in attendance. They signed autographs and posed for photos for some time after the candidate finished speaking, as did Chelsea.

Though there was a significant amount of spare space in the arena, the supporters who turned up were vocal and enthusiastic. One homemade sign looked forward to the election of “Madam President,” while another urged “Hook ‘em, Hill!” – a reference, of course, to the famous slogan of the University of Texas.

Clinton for the most part sought to portray herself as the candidate best able to understand and solve the problems of the general public. This framework seemed to help Clinton connect with the crowd – a trick she is not always able to pull off – and applause greeted even fairly prosaic observations.

“Many people are concerned with just the daily struggles they face,” Clinton said in one such moment. “It may not sound like a really big deal to somebody who’s well-off but, you know, when gas goes up 10 cents a gallon that puts a big strain on the budgets of so many Texans.”

Continuing in the same tone, the former First Lady told the crowd, “I want you to hold me accountable…I want you to say ‘What are you going to do to make it happen?’”

The climax of her speech was based around a refrain about which candidate the public should “hire” to deal with various issues.

Clinton’s practical approach appealed to supporters like Wayne Simoneau, a 54-year-old from Dripping Springs, about 20 miles west of Austin. He defined her appeal in one word: “Experience.”

He added that he wanted “someone who has been around the block” in the White House.

But Simoneau was also impressed by the former First Lady’s stamina:

“She is a 60-year-old woman and she is putting in 18 and 20-hour days,” he said admiringly. “She has the energy of a 20-year old.”