Analysis: Hillary Clinton at a Crossroads of New England…
UPDATED 3/2/16 4:17PM: For clarity.
SPRINGFIELD—Presidential candidates have lavished an unusual amount of attention on the commonwealth’s third largest city this cycle. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, seeking the Democratic nomination, drew a large crowd at the MassMutual. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, held an event in the same facility Sunday. Monday it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s turn.
The Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History seemed a fitting place to rally support in a city whose voters and elected officials have long been kind to Clinton. She needs the city as she battles through a tougher than expected primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. Buoyed by her monumental win in South Carolina and bettering prospects in Massachusetts, Clinton looked beyond Super Tuesday while also promising to help Springfield realize its potential.
“All of you know here in Springfield, you are a city on the way back up and I am going to be a president and partner to help you keep going as far as you can,” Clinton said standing alongside US Rep. Richard Neal, Springfield’s congressman.
In better days, Springfield hosted many a presidential visit. As an immigrant city pivotal to Democratic wins attracted presidential candidates regularly, a point Neal observed.
“We can take some satisfaction that Franklin Roosevelt visited Springfield as a candidate, Harry Truman visited Springfield as a candidate,” the history teacher turned congressman said. “I was in the audience the day before Jack Kennedy visited Springfield as a candidate and in 1996, two days before the election, Bill Clinton visited the city of Springfield.”
Clinton, who campaigned with Neal in Springfield during her unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008, recognized the congressman for his work to help secure peace in Northern Ireland.
But the city Clinton visited today was different from the one Kennedy did. The Campanile before which JFK and Clinton’s husband once rallied is fenced off due to structural problems. Even since her last visit, the city has undergone tremendous change.
In the months after that 2008 visit at Springfield College, hopes that Springfield’s economy would improve alongside its finances were dashed by the recession. Already reeling from deindustrialization, was left adrift as foreclosures rocked the city.
Springfield’s pull on national campaigns has diminished as along with its economic, financial and, by virtue of stagnant population, political influence. But this miasma plagues much of the country.
“We have economic barriers, don’t we?” Clinton said. “A lot of people are working really hard and just barely standing in place.”
There are reasons to think she chose the right place to mount a comeback in Massachusetts and perhaps solidify her path to the nomination.
While Springfield remains cloven by socioeconomic and racial divisions, its government more accurately reflects its population. The City Council is minority-majority and led by an LGBT Council President. Almost mythic projects like Union Station are becoming a reality. Question marks as tall as MGM’s now-deleted tower hover over its plans, but hopes are high the casino can do what many a redevelopment project could not: revive downtown.
Like Springfield, Clinton is trying to escape the demons that have bedeviled her past attempts to rise. Following her back-to-back wins in Nevada and South Carolina and a favorable map on Super Tuesday, the former secretary of state seems to have found her footing. As with Springfield’s revival, however, hazards populate Clinton’s path forward.
Surrounded by memorabilia from the city’s manufacturing past, Clinton also touched on reviving manufacturing, another potential bright spot for the former industrial powerhouse.
“We have to change the tax code. Instead of rewarding people for bring jobs overseas, let’s reward them for bringing those jobs to Springfield and to Western Mass,” Clinton said.
The crowd filling the museum’s atrium and overflowing into the galleries was no match Sanders’s supersized rallies like the one in Amherst last week—Sanders also campaigned in Milton Monday—but the complexion of the crowd mirrored the city’s electorate.
— Tamara Keith (@tamarakeithNPR) February 29, 2016
To the critic’s eye, Clinton’s event was the reverse of Sanders’s Mullins Center barnburner, a careful deployment of Clinton’s base for the folks watching at home. Likewise, her detractors see her as stained with the establishment and unwilling to effect necessary change.
It is impossible to know how many actual Springfield residents were in the crowd—although, anecdotally there were many. Many of the issues Clinton plugged, from social justice to gun violence, are big concerns to Springfield voters and suburbanites who have not written the city off.
Even as she looked to the general election, touching on many of the issues Sanders did in Amherst, Clinton added a local touch. She cited stats about Massachusetts’s structurally deficit bridges in a riff about infrastructure and noted the restoration of the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, something she worked on as First Lady and upon which more could be built.
“There is so much history, but there is also such a great future,” she said of the 413.
The investment in time in Springfield mirrors her campaign’s broader decision to contest the Bay State vigorously rather than surrender it to Sanders after his eye-popping win in New Hampshire. Between her and her husband, her campaign will have stopped in four of commonwealth’s largest cities through Tuesday.
Bill Clinton visit to New Bedford reinforces that Clinton campaign thinks they can deprive Sanders of a win he badly needs in the Bay State.
— Ted Nesi (@TedNesi) March 1, 2016
Officials are predicting 15% of Springfield voters will show up at the polls for the primary, well below the 2008 numbers, but above what conventional wisdom would suggest for a March election in a city with historically lethargic turnout.
Tomorrow at 8pm shall make clear whether Clinton’s embrace of the city at a pivotal time in its history shall prove consequential to her quest for the White House.