WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Former President Bill Clinton joined Gov. Gina Raimondo at the Community College of Rhode Island on Thursday to drum up support for his wife’s presidential campaign, with less than two weeks to go before Rhode Island’s primary.
More than 600 people, many of them students, crowded the central atrium at CCRI’s Knight Campus to hear Clinton speak, according to a campaign estimate. Some supporters of Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders, were gathered outside to counter the former president.
“You’ve been good to me, Rhode Island,” Clinton said. “You’ve been good to her. You’ve been good to our family. You don’t owe us anything. But Hillary feels she does owe you a straightforward account of what the next president can do so we can all rise together.”
In a wide-ranging speech that jumped from President Obama’s financial regulations and health care law to green energy and the importance of community colleges, Clinton combined a pitch for his wife’s campaign with defenses of his own record in the White House.
“We are so close to an economic explosion,” he declared.
The biggest cheer during Raimondo’s speech came when she mocked Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s supporters for citing security concerns when they explained why he didn’t hold a possible rally in Rhode Island this week.
He was “afraid he might encounter some protestors,” Raimondo said. “Give me a break!”
After CCRI, Clinton and Raimondo headed for lunch at Tommy’s Pizza in Cranston, where they met up with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and a few dozen other prominent local Democrats. Tommy’s owner Tom Sacco said he made sure the food was vegan to accommodate Clinton’s post-presidential diet restrictions.
The Clintons have done well in Rhode Island in the past, most recently in 2008, when Hillary Clinton won a landslide victory over Barack Obama in the state’s primary. Nevertheless, Raimondo said she told Clinton before his speech, “We’ve got to crank it up here in Rhode Island – we are not taking anything for granted.”
Among roughly a half-dozen voters at the Clinton event surveyed by WPRI.com, most were undecided. Arthur Ferri of Pawtucket, a Clinton supporter, described her as “the smartest woman in the world” but acknowledged concern that many of his friends and family will support Trump or his fellow Republican Ted Cruz.
“Hillary is going to be the last line of defense against that malevolent force that’s trying to get control of the country,” Ferri said.
Amy Beth Parravano, a Clinton supporter from Cranston, was ecstatic after getting to take a selfie with the former president.
“Right now this is bigger than the Beatles,” she declared.
Younger voters generally said they were on the fence but leaning toward Sanders or already with him, mirroring the strong youth support for his campaign seen in polls. Angelique Dill, a CCRI student from Cranston, said Sanders’ push for free college tuition has resonated.
“We’re feeling a little forgotten by the older generation,” she said.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi