HOUSTON — Former President Bill Clinton made the closing pitch to Texans on his wife’s behalf Monday, making stops in Houston and Fort Worth to remind voters of Hillary Clinton’s long ties to the state in the hours before Super Tuesday.
In 1972, Hillary Clinton, then Hillary Rodham, worked to register Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley, the former president told voters in Fort Worth. “From that day to this, we have always believed in the promise of this state.”
The Texas trip was Bill Clinton’s second in as many weeks, following up on speeches in Laredo and Dallas last Monday. Hillary Clinton also visited the state Feb. 20, celebrating her Nevada caucuses victory in Houston. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, spoke at large rallies in Austin and Dallas on Saturday.
In last week’s University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, Clinton maintained her lead in the state, but her margin had narrowed to just 10 points over Sanders — and with 222 Texas delegates up for grabs, in addition to 29 superdelegates, Sanders is working hard to earn a significant portion of the delegate pie.
On the stump, a hoarse Bill Clinton emphasized that “not all the barriers we have to tear down are economic,” doubling down on the campaign’s recent charge that Sanders is a one-issue candidate. Clinton also made references to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, repeating in Houston and Fort Worth that the goal is to “build ladders to opportunity” rather than to build walls. And he expanded his criticism of the nomination fight across the aisle, taking issue with the tone of last week’s Republican debate.
“I didn’t know whether I was watching a sixth-grade recess fight or a bad piece of reality TV,” he told the audience in Fort Worth. “I’ll tell you one thing — it’s not good for the United States.”
At the same time, Clinton touted his wife’s ability to work with Republicans in previous years, referencing her work with Tom DeLay, the conservative former U.S. House majority leader from Texas, to improve the national foster care system.
“She knows that in a world where you can’t kill, jail or occupy everyone against you, you’ve got to make some friends,” Clinton said.
His speeches also tackled a number of Texas-specific topics, including gun control — one of the few issues where Hillary Clinton is running to the left of Sanders — and Evenwel v. Abbott, an upcoming Supreme Court case that originated in Texas.
Clinton said he understands gun culture, noting that growing up “next door in Arkansas” he had his own guns from the age of 10 and adding that, when he was governor, schools closed on the first day of deer season because nobody would show up.
“I get all that, but this has gotten into a cruel, sad game where people are afraid to trust anyone elected with a simple requirement of background checks,” Clinton said.
And the Republicans suing the state in Evenwel v. Abbott, a redistricting case, are being “patently transparent” in their attempts to marginalize the country’s non-eligible voters, Clinton said. The Texans suing the state, Sue Evenwel of Mount Pleasant and Edward Pfenninger of Montgomery County north of Houston, argue that state legislative districts should be drawn so each district has an equal number of eligible voters, rather than an equal population.
The Clinton campaign has dispatched a star-studded cast of surrogates to the Lone Star State in recent weeks as it seeks to protect the advantage it has held in the state through much of the campaign.
On Saturday evening in Houston, the Clinton campaign rolled out a new “Women of Color for Hillary” initiative, headlined by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston. Celebrating Clinton’s resounding victory in the South Carolina primary, the campaign’s African-American outreach director, LaDavia Drane, joined the meeting by phone and pushed back when one volunteer said she was concerned about a lack of excitement surrounding the campaign.
“As I travel around the country, I can tell you that people are excited,” Drane said, adding that supporters will need to mobilize within their own communities to generate organic enthusiasm. “Because of that decisive win in South Carolina, I do believe we have the momentum.”
Voters who heard the former president speak on Monday echoed Drane’s sentiments. Arpita Sachdeva, who moved to Houston from India a few years ago, said Bill Clinton was a popular figure there when she was growing up. While Sachdeva, who attended the Houston rally, said she had originally heard mixed reviews about Hillary Clinton, many of her friends have come around to support her.
“Nowadays we are a very performance-based and merit-based society, and Hillary Clinton has a very good resume,” Sachdeva said. “She knows what she’s doing. She’s been there, she’s done this, and her promises to me sound much more workable.”
Recent University of Houston graduate Christopher Marroquin said he understands young voters are often split between the two Democratic contenders, but thinks Clinton has a strong chance in Harris County.
“People my age are still split between Hillary and Bernie, but I think people are realizing her experience and what she brings to the table should lead her to victory,” said Marroquin, 25.
Jew Don Boney, a former Mayor Pro Tem and city council member in Houston, said he is feeling “better and better” about Clinton’s chances in the city.
“She seems to have found her voice and she has a clear vision of the issues in the 2016 campaign,” Boney said. “The progressive agenda has really become crystallized, and both candidates represent a lot of the same politics, so it comes down to who can win and what builds the Democratic Party. That’s Hillary.”
The former president will be making a final stop in San Antonio on Monday evening.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. The University of Houston was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/02/29/across-texas-bill-clinton-makes-final-pitch-hillar/.