Andrew Dys

7 years removed from Oval Office, Bill can still talk -- a lot

Gray-haired and almost gaunt, looking every bit the 60-something rich, white man with a heart condition that he jokes about being, Bill Clinton came to Rock Hill to ask for votes for his wife Monday afternoon. His is the face that might be the most recognizable political face on earth.

And talk? Bill Clinton talks. A lot.

And an overflow crowd at The Freedom Center that looked like every other face on earth looked back at him and hung on every word.

There was a black immigrant originally from Antigua in the Caribbean named Dion Livingstone, who climbed on a chair to take a picture of Clinton with his camera phone so people he knows would know he was there. Next to him were two guys who came from India almost three decades ago, Pear Nolan and J.C. Patel. Nolan beamed and said, "What a great thing it is, democracy."

Next to them were a stunning blonde and some gray-haired ladies. Next to them was a white guy just like Bill is, Ray Moore, who was in line more than an hour before the doors opened and said afterward with a smile that was not tired, "I voted for Bill twice."

I asked Moore if Bill swayed his vote for his wife, Hillary, who besides being the wife, wants to be president herself.

"I'm still deciding," Moore said.

But Moore sure wasn't deciding that he wanted to shake Bill's hand. That, he knew.

There were white and black old-school York County Democrats wearing suits and new-school Democrats wearing jeans and T-shirts. There were Latinos and Asians. There were people I talked to who left work early to get a chance to see Bill, some who winked and said "Snuck out early," and even a couple who admitted -- without giving their names -- they never went to work at all.

Before the doors opened, the line wove down Oakland Avenue, hung a left on White Street, then filtered back down Caldwell Street. Almost at the end of the line were two Winthrop University students, Brittany Dinkins and Audra Butler. Each waited until the last minute to get there because seeing Bill meant cutting class.

Health Care Management 301 lost. Bill won.

"I want to see Bill, the best president ever," Dinkins said.

Clinton can name drop like nobody's business, knowing that he was in front of a crowd that was so mixed, likely sharp in world affairs, and plenty progressive or liberal.

One line he lowered like a velvet hammer, in case anybody didn't know Bill still plays with the world's stars: "I was in Malawi the other day. ..." he said. "I was meeting with Mr. Mandela for his birthday."

Clinton played to that diversity in the crowd. He said that many years ago, "Most of the people here would have looked like me -- a bunch of rich white guys in suits."

But then he praised the ethnic and racial and gender and religious diversity he saw, saying America is "a more interesting country" because of it.

He is right.

Freedom Temple preacher Herb Crump called it, "A great day in life in the city of Rock Hill."

He, too, was right.

The people on stage were diverse, too. At the far left, a young white guy in black beard and baseball cap sat thigh to thigh with an older black lady in an oversized sweater. They clapped together.

When it was over, maybe people were swayed to vote for his wife, who leads big in the polls anyway. Maybe not. But a man who was president for eight years, once the leader of the free world, came to Rock Hill and shook every hand he could find.

One hand belonged to Butch Eggert, who was the very first in line. He got to the side door at Freedom Center, for the 5:30 p.m. speech about why Bill's wife, Hillary, should be the next president of these United States, long before 3 p.m. Eggert came to McConnells in York County, from west of Chicago, just six weeks ago.

A white guy, but not in a suit. Eggert wore a sweatshirt.

He saw Bill get misty-eyed when he talked about meeting a caddie on the golf course who was a New York City fire captain trying to earn a few extra bucks. The captain, second-generation Irish, told Bill he would help his wife because his wife was concerned with the health of the responders after 9-11.

"Worth every minute," Eggert said. "I wanted to hear the message. He brought it home for her."

I asked Eggert if Hillary had just got his vote, the vote of, like so many, a transplant who will cast in the Democratic primary in late January.

"Yes, I believe I will vote for her," Eggert said.

Then Eggert, too, leaned over to get a picture and a handshake.

Literally the last in line was Lisa Schafer from Clover. She was sent to the church sanctuary to watch on a TV monitor because the gymnasium where Bill spoke was closed after too many people had already gotten in to see Bill.

She said what so many said, why so many came: "He's Bill Clinton."

• Photo gallery.

• Later today, view video highlights of former President Clinton's visit to Rock Hill at