BY: Follow @LizWFB
The young men in line in front of me on this wet Wednesday afternoon look more like Bernie Bros than Hillary fans, what with their flannel shirts and duck boots. But maybe they are just there to see Bill.
Stopping to take a selfie in the rain, as all three college boys struggle to fit under their tiny umbrella, one says, “The caption is ‘Clintonites.’”
A fellow college student, a girl, soon joins them.
“I’m so glad I found you guys, I couldn’t convince anyone else to go,” she shrugs.
The group of GW students lament that Vice President Joe Biden decided not to run. Hillary’s struggle with the youth vote is apparent.
“When he was talking to Elizabeth Warren, I was gonna drop out of college to work on his campaign,” the girl said.
She seems to have settled for Hillary, after flirting with Bernie Sanders (“Like, I am a socialist, but I don’t think it could work”). Her passion is lacking as she tells the others how she got to see Hillary at an event last year.
“It was a little robotic in person,” she said. “Now you’re going to see the greatest politician ever.”
That may have once been true, when Bill Clinton was in his prime—and the crowd waiting in the rain to see him certainly believed it to still be the case.
The Durant Art Center, just off King Street in Alexandria, Va., that hosted the event, has a yellow traffic sign just outside its entrance: “Safe Place.”
It turns out it is only safe for 400, as the Fire Marshall declares the building to be at capacity just as the “I’m a Socialist” college student gets to the front of the line. I quickly dart to the press check-in, becoming the first Washington Free Beacon reporter to be credentialed by the Hillary campaign.
The “at capacity” line seems misleading, as the crowd inside looks to number less than 150. Nevertheless, the mostly white crowd equipped with selfies sticks patiently wait to see Bill, having yet to realize that they will have to wait in a very hot room for another hour to get a glimpse of him.
Apparently restless from the endless loop of the truly awful handful of pop songs that make up the Hillary campaign playlist, a supporter on stage begins a chant.
“Who are you gonna vote for?” “Hillary! Hillary!” and chants of “I’m with her,” are followed by a less decipherable, mumbled response when the woman yells, “Who you gonna beat?”
What follows is a series of canned speeches and tired jokes from local politicians. Gerry Connelly (D.), who represents Fairfax County, is still talking about Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women.”
Alexandria’s Congressman Don Byer goes with the more recent quip, “Please clap.”
Finally the crowd, now sweating, thinks they will see Bill. Unfortunately, Pharrell’s “Happy” begins to play. The 42nd president doesn’t arrive until 4:40, 10 minutes after the event was scheduled to end.
But he had a good excuse, he says. He was stuck at the airport. Maybe Bill got a later flight because he “went in to buy a pair of jeans” Thursday, according to one of his seemingly endless anecdotes. He’s not wearing jeans.
The crowd is receptive, even though his remarks start with a less than thrilling recount of President Obama’s State of the Union address.
He quickly turns to the “fervor, anger, and uncertainty” Americans feel, giving credence to Trump’s appeal, while dismissing The Donald’s candidacy at the same time.
There is no need to “Make America Great Again,” Bill says, “if you live in Virginia” where “the economy is growing like crazy,” without noting its proximity to the federal government.
“America never stopped being great. We need to make it whole again,” he said.
Bill weaves in recycled jokes (“If I were 25 years old, heh, I’d like to be”) with stories about his granddaughter Charlotte, the crowd awing as if he is the first grandfather they ever laid eyes on.
Though not as effective as he used to be, he can still deliver an anecdote with charm, like how growing up in Arkansas he had his first .22 at age 10, his first shot gun at 12, all while advocating for stricter gun laws.
He hits the typical Hillary campaign points of paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and college affordability.
“There’s lots of other things but it’s hot,” he says, before continuing to talk for another 20 minutes.
Much of the crowd seems eager to escape the sweltering room by the time he wraps up his remarks. He stops to shake hands and take selfies, displaying the political gifts his wife lacks with ease. Clinton campaign contractor Katy Perry’s “Roar” plays so loudly it makes the attempts by journalists to get a quote futile.
Trickling out of the building I overhear a middle-aged woman’s review: “he’s phenomenal.”
The question remains as to how much a good performance on the trail by Bill helps the Hillary campaign, who is facing an unexpectedly competitive primary with the 74-year-old Socialist Sanders, an ongoing investigation by the FBI into her private email server, and honest and trustworthy problems with voters.
Moments later the Tornado Watch-level storm that was approaching on Northern Virginia while Bill was speaking arrives in full force, with deafening thunder and a torrential downpour.
There’s a metaphor there somewhere.