Andrew Dys

Clinton connects with crowd

Sorry, Hillary haters.

In person, on stage, speaking not in campaign shouts but in conversational tones that fell close to whispers at times, Hillary Clinton is likable.

The woman so many claim is so divisive for the country, who so many love to hate, held a campaign event Friday afternoon at The Freedom Center -- York County's largest predominantly black church. She spoke to hundreds of people, most of whom don't go to that church. It was less rally than coffee at the kitchen table. She didn't slam her opponents. She just talked. And even listened.

The crowd was not as loud, or raucous, as the Barack Obama crowd at Winthrop on Wednesday. It had its loud times -- Bush and Cheney always get big cheers when Democrats talk of them going away forever. The crowd was older than Obama's crowd, too. But on the eve of the primary, the crowd was just as rapt as Obama's, listening about the things that matter to so many regular families that are leaning toward voting in today's Democratic primary.

She talked of health care. Jobs. She used examples such as cops, firefighters and teachers as people struggling to make it.

I followed a guy in a Mr. Goodwrench jacket around the balcony. Kevin Harvick racing on the jacket. A barrel chest. A regular guy. Mike Hall, works in hotel management and -- get this -- part time as a bounty hunter.

I asked Hall if he thought Clinton was divisive like so many say, or likable.

"Likable?" he asked. "She's terrific. Got my vote. She talked right to me today."

Clinton talked of taxes. Mortgages. The cost of college. Ending the war in Iraq.

How she reached across party lines to implement health insurance coverage for National Guardsmen and reservists fighting that war, even though she wants to end it.

That hit a home run for Nick Cimmento, 65, and his wife, Joyce. Married 25 years. He's a Marine Corps veteran who lived through the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, and she's a retired nurse. Two grandsons, one in the Army, the other joining the Marines after high school.

"We have to get out of Iraq; she knows we have more important business in Afghanistan," said Nick Cimmento. "She said what I wanted to hear, and I believe every word of it."

Joyce Cimmento said something I will remember forever: "She's a woman. Everybody knows we can work rings around you guys."

No argument from Nick. Or me.

Clinton talked about how the country was built by the workers, not the rich people. She talked of "the next generation," and used phrases like "our kids" and "our future."

The Freedom Center on Rock Hill's Main Street was packed. Almost no chairs, people standing tight. On the balcony, in some places two and three deep. She ended her speech by saying, "This is America. We can do whatever we set our minds to." On that church gym balcony stood James Simpson, 35, and his wife Ariel, 25. Both undecided voters with just hours to make up their minds. I asked both if Clinton was better in person than the countless times each had seen her on television.

"Very strong message, and a breadth of knowledge on so many things important to me," Ariel Simpson said. "She not only has big ideas, she has solid plans."

"Very personable," James Simpson said.

On the way out of the hall, Bill and Sara Castillo, retired, talked about how Clinton reached them. Clinton's father was an enlisted Navy man in his young years, paid cash for what he could afford and did without what he couldn't pay for. Clinton's mother grew up even poorer. Yet, Clinton proudly told hundreds of strangers of those roots, common to so many in the room.

"She doesn't seem like she spent eight years in the White House as first lady," Sara Castillo said. "She seemed like ... she's a lot like us."