In Salisbury, Clinton campaign chairman: She will be the Democrats
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009
By Steve Huffman
Terry McAuliffe and his entourage were standing outside the Rowan County Administrative Offices on West Innes Street Thursday morning when they spotted an approaching group.
“There’s our lovely ladies,” said McAuliffe, pointing to the women who were headed his way carrying an assortment of signs endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.
As the women got within speaking distance, McAuliffe introduced himself and shook hands. Several of the women hugged the tall, lanky Irishman.
“Oh, he’s a sight to behold,” said Nan Lund, an active Rowan County Democrat and the woman who introduced McAuliffe for a brief speech held in tiny Magnolia Park beside the county’s administrative offices.
McAuliffe, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign for president, visited Salisbury briefly Thursday as part of a six-city stump across North Carolina.
He said he was stumping in response to statewide Early Voting that kicked off Thursday.
“Obviously, this is a key, key state for us,” McAuliffe said, referring to the importance being placed on North Carolina as the May 6 primary nears and the race between Clinton and Barack Obama remains razor-thin.
McAuliffe is a consummate politician, a master fund raiser and past chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He also headed Bill Clinton’s two campaigns for president.
McAuliffe is outgoing and friendly. When the 20 or so Hillary backers looked for a place for him to speak Thursday, someone suggested that McAuliffe climb atop a bench there in Magnolia Park.
“I don’t need a bench,” McAuliffe immediately replied. “I’m taller and louder than everybody, already.”
Then he laughed.
When Lund introduced McAuliffe, she recited a litany of accomplishments the attorney who now lives in northern Virginia had managed. That list started with McAuliffe meeting Lyndon Johnson when the president made a visit to New York in 1964. McAuliffe was only 7 at the time.
Lund described McAuliffe as “the most successful fund raiser of all time.”
McAuliffe graciously accepted the accolades, then addressed the group on the reason for his visit.
He said this fall’s presidential election will be a historic one, with the election of either the first black or the first woman. (McAuliffe failed to mention John McCain, the apparent Republican nominee.)
“While he’s great, she’s better,” McAuliffe said of the race between Obama and Clinton.
He said Clinton will provide universal health care, scrap the No Child Left Behind mandate (“As a teacher, it’s the worst thing ever done,” he said) and “withdraw troops quickly, but safely, from Iraq.”
McAuliffe said Hillary has been involved in politics for decades and readily admits to a handful of failures mixed in with her many successes.
“I want someone who tries, fails, dusts themselves off and gets back in the arena,” McAuliffe said.
He noted that 27 million Democrats have voted in primaries thus far this year, and the vote total separating Clinton and Obama is only 50,000. McAuliffe said 10 primaries remain and 10.5 million Democrats have yet to vote.
“Let me make one thing clear,” McAuliffe said of Clinton. “She’s going to the convention as the party nominee.”
He said “North Carolina is critical” in the voting process and told those who gathered in the shade off Innes Street to make sure they encouraged their friends to make it to the polls.
“There’s only Clinton people out today,” McAuliffe said, studying the supporters and signs outside the county’s administrative offices. “That’s a good sign.”
One of those who gathered to hear McAuliffe was Annie Fleming-Weaver. She said she and her husband, Paul Weaver, came to the Board of Elections about 8:30 a.m. to make sure they were among the first to participate in Early Voting.
Fleming-Weaver said her husband is an ardent Obama supporter while she’s an equally ardent supporter of Clinton.
“We talk politics in our sleep,” she said. “It’s kind of bad being on opposite ends of the pole.”
Before McAuliffe and his group left Salisbury en route to Lexington, members walked to Hap’s Grill for a hot dog.
As they stood in line, McAuliffe took a phone call on his cell phone. He said it was Bill Clinton calling.
“You ever been here, Mr. President?” McAuliffe fairly shouted into the phone. “To Hap’s hot dogs in Salisbury, N.C.?”
When McAuliffe hung up the phone, he made an announcement to those standing in line waiting for their hot dogs and hamburgers:
“Bill Clinton said he’s had a Hap’s hot dog.”
Then he smiled, before concluding, “That’s what he said.”
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisbury post.com.