Capitol Bureau Chief
HARTFORD — The loudest roars Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may have received during her brief Connecticut visit Monday came when she noted the significance of another event that evening.
"Tonight is a red-letter night in American history," Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 at Hartford’s Magnet Middle School. "It is the last time George Bush will give a State of the Union address!"
Clinton, greeted by crowds such as the one shown at right, made her morning stop in Connecticut as part of a multi-state swing designed to regain some momentum following her weekend loss to rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, in the South Carolina primary.
She arrived in Connecticut from New York after campaigning in Tennessee Sunday. Clinton made an additional afternoon stop in Springfield, Mass., before returning to the nation’s capital to hear the president’s speech to Congress.
The Clinton campaign suffered another setback Monday when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., endorsed Obama; Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, had done the same Sunday.
Connecticut is considered strong Hillary Clinton territory. Clinton, who met her husband, former President Bill Clinton, while both were at Yale University, repeatedly noted her long familiarity with this state.
Interest in Clinton’s campaign was clear Monday from the long lines of supporters who waited in the cold to gain entry to the school gymnasium where their candidate was appearing.
But not everyone in the crowd, regardless of their feelings about President Bush, was necessarily committed to voting for Hillary Clinton in Connecticut’s Feb. 5 presidential primary.
"I’m a little bit undecided," said Brittany English, a Trinity College senior from Vermont. "I’ve been jumping around between candidates."
Anita Jagjivan of West Hartford was in the same situation. "I think I’m still making up my mind," she said. "I like both of them."
Clinton did her best to convince them during her 26-minute speech and about 22 minutes of answering questions from the audience, sounding a variety of popular Democratic themes.
She promised to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, but cautioned it was unlikely to be accomplished all at once. "I want to do this very carefully," Clinton said.
As for U.S. foreign policy generally, Clinton insisted the message she would send to the world is that, "The era of cowboy diplomacy is over.
"We need to demonstrate that we’re not afraid to find common ground with anybody," she said.
Clinton spoke forcefully about the need to make a major federal effort on the economy. "We are sliding into recession," she said. Clinton called for a 90-day moratorium on housing foreclosures, a five-year freeze on interest rates, and more federal funding for food stamps and assistance to the poor for utility bills.
On education, Clinton said universal pre-kindergarten programs are essential and it is time "to start over and scrap (Bush’s controversial) No Child Left Behind" program.
Clinton also said the U.S. is falling behind other nations of the world in attempting to combat global warming. She proposed new federal funding for solar energy, energy efficiency programs and pushing requirements for higher gas mileage for motor vehicles. Clinton said she would seek to have a new international agreement on global warming by the end of her first year in office.
The candidate’s performance impressed many in the crowd. "I thought she was great," said JoAnne Bannister, a Barkhamsted resident. "I was on the fence … but I’m really impressed with Hillary, and her very concrete plans."
"I think she would make the best president," said Bob Finkel, 69, of New Haven. Finkel said he believes Clinton has a better chance than Obama of beating the Republicans in November. "Barack Obama’s very capable, too, but there’s a lot of prejudice out there," he said.
A number of top Connecticut Democrats showed up to greet and praise Clinton. They included Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Comptroller Nancy Wyman,House Speaker James A. Amann and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, both D-Milford, and former state Democratic Chairman George Jepsen.
Blumenthal spoke for many of those Democratic politicians in dismissing Obama’s South Carolina victory as irrelevant to the Connecticut primary. Sl"No effect," said Blumenthal, who attended Yale Law School with both the Clintons. "She hit on all the right issues… her issues are Connecticut’s issues." "She hit on all the themes I’m interested in," said Amann, adding that the enthusiasm at Clinton’s Monday rally would appear to be a sign that the South Carolina primary hasn’t had much impact here.ossberg said she believes the only carryover from the South Carolina vote will be a result of the extremely high turnout in that state. She argued that such intense interest "energizes the Democratic base" elsewhere.
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 524-0719.