AIKEN — Bill Clinton’s raspy-voiced oratory reminded a crowd of 650 Democratic voters why he was elected to two terms as president in the 1990s, and he used it Friday to exhort them to push his wife closer to the nomination in today’s South Carolina primary.
He said Hillary Clinton was the “change-maker” needed to “make America whole again.”
“Everything she has ever touched, she has made better,” he said at a campaign rally at Aiken High School’s gymnasium.
He touched often on his family’s connections to South Carolina, recalling that daughter Chelsea learned to ride a bike on the beach at Kiawah Island, and praising the state’s growth in manufacturing jobs and contributions to national defense.
He ticked off a litany of progressive positions, maintaining that things were better when he was president and would be again if his wife is elected. The most often-repeated phrases in his speech were “Hillary says” and “Hillary believes.”
On the economy, Hillary says build ladders of opportunity and get back to community banking. On student loans, Hillary says “everybody ought to be able to be able to graduate from a public college debt-free.” For veterans, Hillary believes in keeping the Department of Veterans Affairs, but making it work better.
Too many people are in prison for nonviolent offenses, he said, and Hillary says the government must set aside money to train inmates for work when they are released. On gun control, both Clintons favor “common-sense background checks.”
Here, he paid homage again to South Carolina, saying it gave the nation “a great gift” when the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church forgave the shooter who killed nine members of its congregation, and when the state’s politicians came together to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
He stressed his wife’s ability to work with Republicans, citing the joint efforts of then-Sen. Clinton with Tom DeLay, Lindsey Graham and John McCain.
He said that when Hillary Clinton approached DeLay about a bill to help more children get adopted, the House majority leader asked: “Hillary, do we agree on anything?” Yes, she responded: “You love your children, don’t you?” DeLay and his wife have been foster parents for several children.
Then-President Clinton eventually signed their bill, which he said increased adoptions from foster homes by 80 percent.
That kind of bipartisan effort is important, said Mat Fetteroll, a University of South Carolina graduate who is about to study screenwriting in graduate school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“(Her opponents) paint her as a dangerous progressive, when she’s closer to the center than people on the left or right would like to admit,” he said.
Social issues such as gay rights and a woman’s right to choose are important to him, Fetteroll said, and though he would be comfortable with her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, “she’s the one shouting about things I care about.”
Former Richmond County Commissioner Moses Todd said he hoped a second President Clinton could bring back the economy of the 1990s and continue President Obama’s policies.
“We don’t need to be sold,” he said. “We know who’s been for us over the years.”