Valley News: Clinton's First Upper Valley Stop a Crowded One
In her first presidential campaign appearance in the Upper Valley, Sen. Hillary Clinton yesterday told an overflow crowd that she will lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research if she's elected president.
More than 500 people yesterday turned out to see the Democratic senator from New York, but only 360 of them fit into Alumni Hall, upstairs in the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, where the standing-room-only crowd heard Clinton's hour-long talk on stem cell research.
Another 110 people had a few minutes with Clinton as she stopped to speak to them in a small courtyard outside the Hopkins Center. And 100 more departed after room in Alumni Hall ran out. They were offered the chance to hear Clinton's talk broadcast into classrooms that had been set up in the building, but none chose to stay, her staffers said after the event.
State Rep. Lee Hammond, a Lebanon Democrat, introduced Clinton, saying she would help "send a message to Washington" to pass stem cell research legislation. He called on the crowd to "step up the heat and get this bill passed" as Clinton entered the room. Hammond's last words were drowned out as the crowd stood and greeted Clinton with loud applause.
Calling science "under siege" by the Bush administration, Clinton said the president was trying to "turn Washington into an evidence-free zone" with positions on scientific and health-related issues that have nothing to do with science or facts. In addition to her points on stem cell research, Clinton faulted Bush's positions on climate change and his opposition to the use of the Plan B contraceptive pill.
"It's time to unlock the potential for stem cell research and put an end to the backwards and restrictive policies of this administration," Clinton said, adding that as president, "I will lift the ban on ethical embryonic stem cell research and allow our scientists to pursue treatments that could help millions of Americans."
A number of scientists were in the audience yesterday and stood to talk about their work at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and at Dartmouth Medical School.
DHMC professor Dr. Jeffrey Cohen sat with Clinton. A neurologist, Cohen talked about his work with patients who have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also know as Lou Gehrig's Disease. "Not all my patients are Democrats and they are not all supporters of Senator Clinton but they all feel strongly about this issue," he said of stem cell research.
Opponents in the stem cell debate argue that it is immoral to destroy human embryos to harvest cells. Advocates counter that fertility clinics grow more embryos than prospective parents want and that the extras are routinely thrown out.
The House earlier this month voted to send legislation that relaxes Bush's limits on embryonic stem cell research to the White House, where it faces a likely veto. The Senate passed the stem cell bill in April, with three senators absent. All three are Democrats who have pledged to support the bill, but even with their votes, the Senate would be one vote short of the necessary two-thirds to override Bush's veto. New Hampshire activists have criticized U.S. Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., for opposing the bill and Clinton yesterday called on the crowd to help reverse that New Hampshire vote.
Jean Fahey of Claremont asked Clinton how she could help the stem cell fight. "To me it's a no-brainer to do this research."
Clinton told Fahey that passage of the bill comes down to votes and "that's why your senator is very important in this."
Dr. Nancy Speck of Hanover, a Dartmouth Medical School professor, told Clinton that she was "extremely impressed by how knowledgeable you are on this issue."
Clinton recognized several people in the hall, including physician C. Everett Koop, who served as U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan administration and former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who has a home in Hanover. Clinton met with Koop, several local legislators and people from DHMC in a room at the Hanover Inn before the talk and met again after her appearance with a small group, also at the inn, a Clinton staffer said.
Also sitting with Clinton were Kathleen and Laura Clark of Antrim, N.H. The mother and daughter talked about how Laura Clark, 23, had become a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic after hitting a moose while driving three years ago. Kathleen, who is a registered Republican, said she had changed her mind politically and was ready to support Clinton because of her stem cell position. "She's pulling me in," the elder Clark said after the talk.
Laura Clark said she's not yet ready to commit to voting for Clinton as she contemplates her second vote in a presidential election. She said she wants to look at other issues, "then I'll see," she said.
Dozens in the room stayed to shake Clinton's hand. Among them was Joyce Ian of Etna. "I'm impressed," Ian said. She said she hadn't been sure about Clinton until hearing her speak. An independent, Ian said she thinks she may vote for Clinton but isn't ready to make her mind up just yet.
One person whose mind is made up is Terry Shumaker of Concord. He said Clinton is "ready to be president at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, more ready that any of them." Shumaker, who co-chaired Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential-primary campaign and yesterday sported a "Hillary 2008" pin, served as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago during Bill Clinton's second term. He said Hillary Clinton has better command of the issues than the other Democratic candidates and has solid relationships with leaders around the world.
While yesterday was her first Upper Valley foray as a candidate, Clinton's very first trip to the area was more than four decades ago, she told the crowd at the beginning of her speech, when she traveled to Dartmouth for a blind date, an anecdote that brought a laugh from the audience.
After the speech, as Clinton worked the crowded rope line, signing autographs, shaking hands and posing for photographs, she was asked by a reporter who that decades-old blind date had been with. The candidate threw her head back and laughed, saying, "No way, you're not going to get me to kiss and tell." She then paused and thought for a few seconds, adding that the trip "was either 41 or 42 years ago" when she was a freshman or a sophomore at Wellesley College.
Then Clinton moved on down the line, guided by staffers and watched over by members of her Secret Service detail as the song Life is a Highway blared over the loudspeakers.