Enthusiastic crowd greets Clinton at Salisbury stop

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Torren Mayr is only 8 months old, but he’s already been mentioned in a speech by a major presidential candidate.
When Hillary Clinton stepped to the stage at the Historic Salisbury Station Monday afternoon, she scanned the crowd.
Then she announced, “I see a ‘Babies for Hillary’ sign back there. That’s a very smart baby.”
Chuckles rippled through the crowd.
The “Babies for Hillary” sign was prepared by Torren’s grandmother, Pattie Templeton. She babysits Torren on weekdays and took the child to see Clinton, driving from her home in Huntersville.
The sign was attached to Torren’s stroller, though Templeton removed it and held it aloft as Hillary stepped to the stage.
“I just wanted to come see Hillary and I thought this was the best venue,” Templeton said, noting that should Clinton eventually win the Democratic nomination and race for president, her grandson would forever be able to say he’d seen a president in person.
Even if he couldn’t remember having done so.
Clinton’s stop in Salisbury was part of a statewide stump that precedes next Tuesday’s primary. She spoke in Graham before traveling to Salisbury, then made stops in Concord and Charlotte before the day was through.
Several hundred people gathered at the Salisbury depot, congregating under the metal roof outside the main building.
Bleachers were erected on either side of the stage where Clinton stood and a large American flag lined a wall. On the nearby railroad tracks, police officers cruised back and forth on Segways.
Other officers held the leashes of police dogs.
When a slow-moving freight train rumbled past while Clinton spoke, she paused and waved to the engineer. He responded by giving her a thumbs-up sign.
Johnsie Hege came to Salisbury Monday with her father, John Stewart, to have lunch at DJ’s. They traveled from Winston-Salem.
Hege said they learned while in town that Clinton would be speaking, so they decided to have a look, though neither she nor her father have made up their minds who they’ll be voting for.
“We accidentally came across this,” Hege said of learning of Clinton’s visit.
A number of those in attendance said they haven’t decided the candidate they’ll be supporting.
“I’m just curious,” admitted Salisbury’s George Taylor when asked his reason for coming to see Clinton.
John Thompson said he wasn’t as much a Hillary supporter as he was a Bill Clinton supporter.
Then he noted, “If we get Hillary, we get Bill, too. They come as a pair.”
Melissa Conrad brought her two children, Lindsey, 4, and Taylor, 6, to Monday’s gathering.
Taylor is a kindergartner at St. John’s Lutheran and said students in her class held a mock election recently.
Taylor said that while she voted for Clinton, the majority of her classmates did otherwise. She said Barack Obama was the leading vote-getter.
Melissa, Taylor’s mother, said her children have taken an interest in this year’s race.
“They’ve seen her in the newspapers and on TV,” Melissa said of Clinton. “They wanted to be here today.”
Jack Thomson, executive director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, found himself basking again in the glow of a big name visiting the depot.
In the past month, the facility has been visited by George Clooney and Renee Zellweger, plus both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Thomson noted that security for Hillary’s visit was much more strict than it was for her husband’s visit earlier this month. Officers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security scrutinized every pocketbook that was carried into the depot Monday. Visitors also had to pass through metal detectors.
Genoal Russell, chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party, said she felt attendance for Hillary’s speech was curtailed by inclement weather.
Rain fell off and on throughout the day and a tornado watch was in effect for counties closer to Charlotte.
A bit more sunshine might have boosted attendance from the hundreds to the thousands, Russell said.
“But we have enthusiasm here,” she said, laughing.
While the hierarchy of the local Democratic party isn’t backing either Clinton or Obama, Donna Monroe, one of the party’s members, isn’t so bashful.
She said she’s a full-fledged Clinton supporter.
“I think Hillary has the best chance to get our country back on its feet,” Monroe said. “Things are in such a mess right now with the economy and all.”
Then she paused before stating some of the reasons she feels Clinton is the best choice for president.
“A woman can multi-task,” Monroe said, laughing. “And she can take a punch, too.”
Clinton said much the same when she took the stage, alluding to past well-publicized marital problems that she and her husband have weathered.
“I know some say, ‘She’s tough,’ ” Clinton said. “If you’d had my life, you’d be tough, too.”
After speaking in Salisbury, Clinton left for Concord, where she spoke to more than 500 people at Troutman’s Bar-B-Que.
They stood beneath golf umbrellas and ponchos as a rain storm rolled through Cabarrus County. Blue skies and a warm sun arrived just as Clinton’s vehicle entered the parking lot.
From a platform, Clinton spoke of her goals to address the economy, energy, health care and education. As in Salisbury, she asked the crowd to “hire” her as president.
“Look at my resume,” Clinton said. “I want a chance to show you what I can do for you.”
Inside Troutman’s, supporters shared their thoughts about Clinton.
“I just think she’ll make a great president,” said Don Barnhardt of Concord. “She’s the only pick we’ve got.”
Cabarrus resident Regina Parham said Clinton “has the best record of all the candidates.”
Teenagers and young adults shared their own assessment of Clinton.
“She’s just awesome,” said Alex Almeter, an 11th-grade student at Jay M. Robinson High School. “Super awesome.”
Anita Honeycutt, an education major at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, talked with Clinton then declared herself “at a loss for words.
“She is sweet and seems down to earth,” Honeycutt managed. “I hope she gets elected.”
Freelance writer Joanne Gonnerman contributed to this story. Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.