PITTSBURGH _ Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” played before Hillary Clinton took the stage at Carnegie Mellon University’s gym the day after she lost the Wisconsin Primary to Bernie Sanders. It’s a good choice for a politician who has tried hard to get somewhere but has had challenges. Also, hey, the kids like Taylor.
At his rallies Bernie Sanders plays Simon and Garfunkel and Bruce Springsteen, and you’re going to like it, just as you like the intense Brooklyn Democratic Socialist. Clinton is happy to compromise and offer Swift. Perhaps that’s the difference.
There are other differences. Though both of their recent Pittsburgh rallies were planned fairly late, the score in terms of body count was 8,000-2,000 in favor of Sanders. Not to mention, although the bleacher seats at CMU were filled with the older faces of Clinton’s best demographic, the diverse collection of college kids who stood on the gym floor could get there easily, if they attended CMU.
CMU, however, made the occasion count, with the national anthem and an a cappella performance, a student senator, and then Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto introducing Clinton.
Clinton was her solid, strident self. Where Sanders spends 15 minutes nodding to various “brothers and sisters” in minority groups, Clinton says diversity is important and then moves on.
The crowd cheered earnestly and loudly. The press was not kept in a pen, and security seemed more chill than at the Sanders rally, though there were full-body metal detectors, and a bomb dog stuck its nose in each bag. Organizers holding blue pads took down names of new volunteers. Some of them also held giant letters that spelled “Vote Hillary.”
It would be easy to guess going in that the crowd wouldn’t have the same ga-ga sentiment that they have for Sanders, and you would be guessing correctly. Nobody was dressed up in goofy garb, unless you count the Hillary organizer wearing the giant letters around his neck after the rally. A lot of people asked were not interested in being interviewed and were less pleasant than Sanders fans to learn that the publication in question was Playboy. Worst of all–for Clinton–some of the young people were there out of curiosity, and they prefered Sanders.
BUT CLINTON HAS LOYAL FANS
And they’re older, and they fancy themselves sensible. Zolin Cook, 36, is a Republican who thinks Clinton is great, which is a phenomenon that probably should be more common. He thinks Clinton is experienced and awesome enough that he was clutching a “Fighting for us” sign as he filed out of the rally. Clinton “has a record like no one else in terms of her foreign diplomacy, and her track record with working with the other side of the aisle is also very strong.” Cook has voted for Democrats in the past, but he did not want to reveal any of his past votes because he pretty much regretted them all. Donald Trump, he said, is more liberal than Clinton. Ted Cruz is “the type of Republican I am not.” John Kasich would be OK.
The kids like Sanders, Cook said, because free stuff is nice and populism is for the young. However, Cook can’t support “somebody who wants to increase spending by $7 trillion in his first year in office.”
Socialism, Martell said, is new to the kids but not to people her age.
Sixty-seven-year-old retired steelworker Jim Antenucci voted for Obama in 2008, and he loves the Clintons. His priorities in 2016 include preventing a Republican-dominated White House, House and Senate, and keeping Medicare, VA hospitals and other social services funded. However, when he talked about Sanders and Sanders’ young enthusiasts, he had a touch of the realistic grump about him. “I think Bernie has been making some promises he can’t keep…” He also doesn’t know foreign policy like Clinton. Antenucci paused, and then when prompted by his wife, he agreed that free college was a fantasy. Later he scorned $15 an hour wages when you do not know where that money will come from. Antenucci loves the idea of a good economy, in which “Mom [is] going to stay home with the kids while dad goes out and earns a living. That’s what I grew up with.”
Establishment sometimes just means you know people and can stop all the obstructionism, suggested Joan Martell, 67. The friendly woman, two years retired after running a transplant lab, is excited about Hillary and about a woman president. As a good Democrat, she eventually supported Obama in 2008, and she thinks “Sanders says wonderful things,” but Clinton knows how to get things done. “Everything she says is possible…” whereas Sanders’ ideas are “pie-in-the-sky, where is the money going to come from?” Socialism, Martell said, is new to the kids but not to people her age.
SANDERS LOVE AT A CLINTON RALLY
Mariana Rodriguez, 22, a CMU junior, and a material sciences and engineering major, seems like she should be the perfect choice for Hillary. She’s politically aware, and during our interview she called herself a feminist. Though a woman president would be nice, she said Clinton’s “views on social issues that matter to me don’t really align with my feminism. So in the end that’s kind of a moot point.” Rodriguez, who was there to see what Clinton had to say, prefers Sanders for his bank plans and because Hillary “can read a bit opportunistic.” Furthermore, “her track record with race in America” is bad. Not to mention, “at one point she definitely wasn’t for gay marriage, so that I don’t like.” Yeesh.
The loyalties of two CMU freshman in Bernie Sanders stickers whom I intercepted fleeing the rally about a third of the way through Clinton’s speech were not hard to suss out. Eighteen-year-old Jadon Grove, from Phoenix, also just wanted to see what Clinton had to offer because he thought it civically important. Though he declared “both of the candidates support about 95 percent of the same things,” his loyalty to Sanders was not swayed by the part of Clinton’s speech he watched. If the Republican candidate is in danger of winning the general, Grove could be willing to vote Clinton, but, same with Rodriguez, he doesn’t like Clinton’s support of the Iraq war and her lack of support for social issues. After all, “on gay marriage, she’s only explicitly supported it since 2012…” (Actually, it was 2013.)
Sanders is more progressive than Clinton, and he, Garcia agrees, has been much better on gay rights.
Grove’s friend Oscar Garcia–18 and from Los Angeles–said he was also at the rally to “keep an open mind,” though he also prefers Sanders. Sanders is more progressive than Clinton, and he, Garcia agrees, has been much better on gay rights. Sanders would fight harder than Clinton as well, even if, of course, he can’t magically fix everything. Garcia clarified that he prefers Sanders and Clinton to any Republican. Oh, and the hammer and sickle shirt he was wearing that caught my eye was “completely a joke.”
VOLUNTEERS AND OTHER SORTS
Clad in a short black shirty dress more fit for a cocktail party, and thick glasses, Stephanie Luger, 25, with the soft Minnesota accent, works as an organizer with the Hillary Clinton campaign in Pittsburgh. It’s her full-time job. She inherited a fondness for Clinton from her mother and grew up around strong women, so she digs Hillary the most. Equal pay for equal work is one of the issues she cares about. As Luger spoke, another organizer wandered conspicuously within earshot, and it was hard to tell if that was on purpose or not. But Luger never said anything remotely untoward.
The final person to consent to an interview was a nameless, shrewd-faced, dark-haired man, 34, who was at the rally in order to collect autographs to later sell. He said he would vote for Trump over Clinton solely because Trump is good about signing memorabilia.
Outside the gym the Hillary Clinton volunteers sat on the grass, some smoking, in the dusk. They talked about the party they might attend and whether they should go back to the office to count the blue pieces of paper that contained the names and contact info of new would-be campaign volunteers. They said they were very happy with the reception Pittsburgh had given Clinton.