By Scott Leffler
The Tonawanda News
— Sitting in Nick Tahou’s on West Main Street in Rochester Friday night, I looked up at Heather and said, “If Bill Clinton had asked those people to jump off a cliff, a lot of them would have.”
She and I had just covered a rally at the Main Street Armory where the former president had stumped for Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.
Slaughter referred to Clinton as a “national treasure.” Hochul, meanwhile, alluded to Clinton’s widely regarded stature as a “rock star.”
Whether he’s a national treasure, a rock star or just a former president, people love Bill Clinton. And really, what’s not to love? He comes across as both intelligent and compassionate. He is incredibly energetic. And somehow he manages to transfer that energy to anyone he’s talking to.
Everyone has seen or heard Clinton speak on television. And some of that charm comes across through the boob tube. But being there in person is similar to the difference between watching an NFL/NHL/NBA game on TV and watching it in the flesh. There’s something about the experience of “being there.”
For his part, Clinton mostly served in the role of an Obama surrogate. He spent the largest portion of his nearly one-hour speech talking about why people need to vote for President Obama’s re-election, trotting out facts and figures as well as personal stories and accounts.
Bill Clinton knows he’s popular. Not just in liberal Democrat circles either. Many independents look back on the 42nd president in a way that some guys look back on their high school sweetheart. There’s a feeling of longing for a bygone era and a disbelief that we ever let that era slip away.
“I hope I have some credibility with you on what’s good for the economy,” the former president said to the crowd, breaking into the portion of the speech where he derided what he referred to as Mitt Romney’s “hide-and-seek” budget.
“Nobody who ever served as president … could have brought this economy back in four years,” he said, solidifying any doubt of those in the crowd that they had to not only vote for Obama but convince others to do the same.
On Hochul, Clinton said she “has proved that she will vote with Republicans to cut spending,” — an odd thing to say to a crowd of Democrat partisans. But not so odd when you consider that Hochul’s district is overwhelmingly Republican. And for a second everyone in the crowd loved Republicans and even the concept of cutting spending. It was amazing to watch.
I was only half joking when I told Heather that people would jump off a cliff if he asked them to.
Although we had a good time covering the event, it was not all sunshine and lollipops. The disorganization was readily apparent.
I had gotten an email from the Hochul campaign about the event on Tuesday, three days ahead of the rally. I put in for press passes on Wednesday. I called the same day to no avail.
Thursday I got an email from the Slaughter campaign that they would be handling press credentials. And that they would only issue one credential per newspaper. So I re-applied, altering our credentials so that Heather would represent the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal and I would be there on behalf of the Medina Journal-Register.
I knew that this was gaming the system to a degree but I figured with a newsgroup of four papers, all of whom would run the story and photos, I was well within my rights. Plus I do work for both the Lockport and Medina papers. And the Tonawanda News. And the Niagara Gazette, too. So really, I wasn’t lying.
And to top it all off, I said if it was still possible to get only one press credential I wanted to photo credit for Heather. I have been to enough political rallies that I could cover it from the crowd with my eyes closed.
Thursday evening I had still not had a response. So I started calling people. I finally got a call from someone with the Hochul campaign saying that they got our application for credentials and that Heather’s was approved but they’d be making a decision on mine later.
Friday afternoon we show up at the rally. We have one credential.
After much complaining and wrangling (and with some help from the AP photographer) we both got in.
We were astonished, however, that they didn’t check our IDs. They didn’t search Heather’s camera bags. And they didn’t pat us down. Security was — in a word — lacking.
Once inside there were more issues of organization: No power for people with laptops; No wi-fi.
I realize that hosting the president is a daunting task.
But if these two congresswomen have any hope of doing it again in two years, they better hope their campaigns are better organized than Friday’s rally was.
Scott Leffler mostly abhors politicians but is an unapologetic Bill Clinton fan. Follow his fawning and fanning on Twitter @scottleffler.