PUBLISHED: January 18, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News
By TONY CASTRO
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – Thousands of supporters braved chilly conditions Thursday in the San Fernando Valley to hear Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterate her plans to stimulate the country’s troubled economy on a day when fears of a looming recession sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging more than 300 points.
But hundreds of backers were left out in the cold at the Clinton rally at California State University, Northridge, where her campaign had booked the campus’s Grand Salon, which could seat only 250.
Reaching out to those left in the elements, the New York senator personally greeted and shook hands with many outside the hall who had waited for hours.
“Thank you! Thank you for coming!” Clinton said to some of them, waving to the crowd along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of her national co-chairmen who campaigned with the former first lady throughout the day.
Clinton earlier appeared in Compton, where she invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to the African-American congregation of the Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
Clinton’s visit to the Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles was part of a two-day political blitzkrieg by the three remaining major Democratic candidates less than three weeks before California’s Feb. 5 presidential primary.
Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in the Valley on Wednesday, and former Sen. John Edwards exhorted labor leaders for support Thursday in downtown Los Angeles.
In his rally, Edwards called his campaign the “cause of my life” and appealed to union workers to create a “tidal wave of change to sweep across this nation.”
“All of us together, we have a message for all America,” Edwards told more than 300 SEIU Local 721 workers gathered on the rooftop of its downtown Los Angeles building. “We are engaged in a battle for change.”
The rally signaled the start of Edwards’ effort leading up to Feb. 5. In his remarks, Edwards touted his proposals to provide health care for Americans and fight for the middle class.
“The difference between living in poverty and the middle class … is being a member of a union,” Edwards said.
The Los Angeles campaign swings come just two days before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina GOP primary and just two days after a near love-in Democratic debate, but there were indications the gloves had begun coming off.
At CSUN, Clinton renewed an attack on her chief rival by questioning Obama’s experience and leadership abilities.
Both Villaraigosa and Rep. Brad Sherman, who represents the surrounding 27th Congressional District, stressed the need for political experience and leadership.
“Many people have raised their hand to be president and though some are very qualified, Hillary Clinton stands heads and shoulders above them!” Villaraigosa told cheering Clinton supporters. “Because experience matters!”
Experience is the reason Emily Ysais, a small-business owner from Van Nuys, said she is backing Clinton.
“I have been waiting for her,” said Ysais, who attended the rally with her girlfriends. “She is experienced. She knows what she is talking about, and she’s a true leader … simply a strong woman.”
Clinton’s gender was noted by many of the women in the crowd, though some said their support for her transcends that single issue.
“I wouldn’t support just any woman,” said Shaina Lunde, a CSUN art history student. “But I support her.”
In his remarks to the crowd before Clinton’s arrival, Sherman also alluded to Obama’s appearance Wednesday in Van Nuys where he held an economic roundtable discussion.
“He met with four residents in the backyard,” Sherman said, contrasting that with the more than 2,000 people who showed up for Clinton at CSUN. “We did all this in a day and a half!”
But Clinton herself seemed conciliatory, especially in a question-and-answer session when Carlos Aguilar of Arleta – a Cuban-born American who has lived in the Valley 41 years – asked whether she would consider Obama as a running mate.
“Let me say that I can’t think that far ahead because it’s bad luck,” said Clinton. “I’m very superstitious and I don’t want to be presumptuous – but he is an extraordinary man, and he has so much to give our country, and I hope that however this works out that he will be a major figure in American politics for years to come … I certainly support that.”
In her remarks, Clinton again vowed to push tough measures to help distressed homeowners.
If elected, she said, she would impose a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures and call for a five-year freeze on interest rates.
Clinton also said she would move quickly to help the 47million Americans without health-care insurance by proposing that uninsured people be covered by a variation of the program that insures members of Congress.
Clinton’s health-care work dating back to husband Bill Clinton’s administration appeared to be one of the reasons some of the supporters Thursday were willing to stand in line for hours to see her.
Among them was Jennifer Strigle of Canyon Country, who said that under the Clinton administration she was able to receive government funding for a series of treatments for epilepsy.
“She was there for me when I needed her support,” Strigle said. “She did a lot then, and she is still talking about making the health-care system better now.”
In a lighter moment during the question-and-answer session, Abraham Lutfi, who said he was an Iraqi by birth but had been in the United States for 47 years, addressed Clinton as “Madame President.”
Clinton responded with a smile.
“That sounds good,” she said.
Lutfi said he was a doctor who had just returned from treating U.S. service members for the past three years, and he told a touching story about soldiers who would ask him why they were fighting in Iraq.
“I don’t know,” he said, then proceeded to feign not knowing Vice President Cheney’s first name.
“Dick,” said Clinton, unaware she was playing Lutfi’s straight woman.
“Oh, that Dick,” said Lutfi. “You’re right.”
The crowd – even those outside in the cold listening to the exchange via loudspeakers – roared.