CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop in Rhode Island’s smallest city on Saturday, urging her supporters to head to the polls in Tuesday’s primary while mostly training her fire on the Republican field.
“I’m so happy to be back here in Rhode Island,” Clinton told more than 1,000 supporters gathered in the gym at Central Falls High School. “I love this little state. I have so many friends here.” She described Rhode Islanders as “resilient and hardworking.”
In her first local campaign stop since the fall of 2014, Clinton rarely mentioned rival Bernie Sanders but repeatedly criticized GOP hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. She said of Trump: “Loose cannons tend to misfire – and what we have with him is the loosest of all cannons.” And noting recent comments by a top Trump aide that the candidate’s bombast is in some ways an act, she said: “If we buy that, shame on us.”
Clinton drew cheers as she discussed her support for higher wages, organized labor, abortion rights, immigration liberalization, the Affordable Care Act, gun restrictions and climate action, with one of the loudest reactions coming after she called for “equal pay for women.” Members of the Laborers and other unions made their presence felt in the crowd.
As for Sanders, Clinton drew an implicit contrast between his more ambitious proposals and what she sees as her realism, declaring: “I am not making promises I can’t keep.” Calling the Vermont senator “my esteemed opponent,” she critiqued his well-known proposal for free college tuition, saying: “I don’t want free college for people who can pay for it, like Donald Trump.”
After the Central Falls event, Clinton’s motorcade took her to the Atwood Grille in Johnston, where she met up with Mayor Joseph Polisena and other Democrats. Clinton schmoozed with diners, took selfies and joked with one woman about how becoming a grandmother for the first time has made them both “crazy.”
Despite scoring an 18-point victory over Barack Obama in Rhode Island eight years ago, Clinton is facing a tough challenge from Sanders this time around, though she has near-universal support from top local Democrats. With 24 elected delegates at stake in Tuesday’s primary, both sides acknowledge the race is competitive.
Sanders himself will be in Rhode Island on Sunday for a noontime rally at Roger Williams Park that’s expected to draw a sizable crowd. Neither candidate had campaigned personally in the state before this weekend. And in another sign of how seriously Clinton’s aides are taking Rhode Island, her campaign announced late Saturday that former President Bill Clinton will return Monday for his second visit this month; details were not available.
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At the Central Falls rally, Clinton made her entrance by the side of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who consistently ranks as Rhode Island’s most popular politician in public opinion surveys. Clinton, who served with Reed in the Senate, said he “understands as much about national security as anybody in the Congress, and probably nearly anywhere else.”
Before Clinton took the stage, a parade of elected officials – including Gov. Gina Raimondo, all four members of Congress, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa – urged attendees to vote Tuesday. Gorbea noted voters can cast an emergency ballot on Monday if they can’t get out to vote the following day.
Raimondo seemed to acknowledge the growing buzz in Rhode Island political circles that Sanders could win the state on Tuesday, telling that crowd that “she’s going to overcome the odds and she’s going to win!”
With the Clinton campaign making a major push for the Latino vote, Diossa, Gorbea and Congressman David Cicilline spoke in both English and Spanish. The campaign also announced that Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego will visit Central Falls for Clinton on Sunday, the second stop by a prominent Latino member of Congress.
Taking the stage after Raimondo, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse declared: “What better thing could we be doing than help the first woman governor of Rhode Island elect the first woman president of the United States?” Earlier Cicilline had taken aim at Trump, calling the Republican frontrunner “a dangerous man.”
Voters in the crowd who are supporting Clinton generally cited her experience and perceived pragmatism.
“I’m liberal but I’m not extreme liberal,” said Lloyd Mumford, a 48-year-old from Woonsocket, as he contrasted her with Sanders.
Grayson Murphy, a 76-year-old from Cumberland, said the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court is a crucial issue for him that has made him prioritize picking someone who can win. “She’s electable,” he said.
Karen Zelano, a 53-year-old from Providence, decided to back Clinton two weeks ago, saying she loves “Bernie’s idealism” but fears he isn’t pragmatic. “I just think she’s got a broader platform of issues,” Zelano said. But she added that her three young adult children are all leaning toward Sanders.
The visits by Clinton and Sanders are part of a busy pre-primary weekend in Rhode Island that also saw Republican hopeful John Kasich hold a town hall at Bryant University earlier Saturday. Trump and Cruz have not indicated any plans to visit the state before Tuesday.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram