The Clintons drew a Vineyard crowd
The political, the curious, the civic-minded, and a few who were just wandering by gathered Saturday evening at the historic Tabernacle of the Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting Association to participate in Sen. Hillary Clinton's quest to make a little history of her own.
On the Island to raise money for her presidential campaign, Sen. Clinton drew a mostly adoring crowd to Oak Bluffs for a campaign rally that featured music, comedy, and Island celebrities, in addition to politics.
Some were sick of sound bites and just wanted to look her in the eye. Some wanted to hear her views on Iraq. Some wanted to tell their grandchildren they were there. Some were positively giddy over the celebrity of it all. One came to show off his "Obama '08" tee-shirt. Some wanted her to have $50 of their hard earned money. Some came to see her husband. Some simply wanted to be on the same patch of planet as the person who may become the first woman elected president of the United States.
Supporters scrambled for snapshots of presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton as she took the stage for a campaign speech at the Tabernacle. Photos by Ralph Stewart
"This is," said Sen. Clinton, "sort of an overwhelming homecoming, in a way. We have been coming to this magical Island, as a family, for 14 years. No matter what was going on in the world, we always felt so welcomed, and so embraced, and so supported. So the first thing I want to say is, thank you.
"I love this Tabernacle. Bill and I and Chelsea have been privileged to worship here, and come to events here like so many of you. Looking out beyond the structure itself, onto the grass, I am just so grateful that you would take time out of what is certainly a beautiful day in a summer that is ending too soon, to come, as you have."
Former President Bill Clinton, seated on the stage, listened to his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, rally supporters.
Approximately 2,200 people donated $50 to the Clinton campaign fund for the privilege of sitting inside the Tabernacle, and hundreds more sat on the lawn outside for free.
"There's something that happens when you hear a candidate talking directly to you, that gives you a sense of who they really are," said Jessica Andrews, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs. "You can get at whether they're sincere or not."
"I'm waiting to hear someone say 'I'll bring the troops home from Iraq,'" said David Underwood of Oak Bluffs. When reminded that Sen. Clinton's vote to authorize the war, and her subsequent position, have been a point of contention exploited by her Democratic primary opponents, Mr. Underwood acknowledged that he needs more convincing. "I'm waiting for her to make a stronger statement, that's the main thing that I'm looking for."
After her appearance at a packed Tabernacle fundraiser Saturday, Senator Clinton allowed herself to be captured by an admirer. Michael Wooley is at Senator Clinton's right.
Linda Mallory and her friends, vacationers from Rhode Island, were first in the long line formed by ticket holders more than two hours before Sen. Clinton was scheduled to speak. "We're very excited to come and see a past president and potentially the first woman president of the United States," said Ms. Mallory. "And it's pleasantly affordable."
Not everyone was thrilled to see Sen. Clinton at the Tabernacle. Jay Bonanno of Edgartown was one of several people who questioned her use of the Tabernacle for political fund-raising. "It is my understanding the only fund-raisers for the benefit of Tabernacle can be held there," wrote Bonanno in an e-mail to the Martha's Vineyard Times. "If the MVCGA is changing the rules, I think that a lot of people that support them may have a second thought."
Hosts Ted Danson (left) and Mary Steenbergen (second from left) applauded the musical performances with former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the Clintons' daughter Chelsea (right).
"There are no by-laws which prevent it," said Russell Dagnall, president of the Campmeeting Association. He cited a musical show earlier in the summer which did not benefit the Tabernacle, and noted many governors have appeared there.
"Precedent was set 40 years ago with Sen. Ed Brooke," Mr. Dagnall said. Sen. Brooke appeared at the Tabernacle in August 1967, to deliver a speech that touched on issues including the Vietnam War and urban rioting.
Standing before event organizers, Sen. Hillary Clinton led a campaign rally and fundraiser from the Tabernacle stage.
The rally opened with actors Mary Steenbergen and Ted Danson, who performed a comedy sketch revolving around Mr. Danson's desire to sing, despite his inability to sing. Those in the crowd who thought they could sing better were asked to stand, and Ms. Steenbergen picked a man who stepped tentatively toward the stage. The man, of course, was a ringer, well-known Oak Bluffs resident Jim Thompson, who sang out with a booming baritone voice the Negro spiritual "Good News, The Chariot is Coming." He was quickly joined on stage by a choir of singers from many different Island organizations.
"It was tremendous, a tremendous feeling, a community feeling, that's what I really enjoyed," said Mr. Thompson. "The greatest part for me, was that we were able to get singers from all across the Island to come together after two rehearsals."
Island favorite Carly Simon, joined by her son Ben Taylor, daughter Sally Taylor, and later, songwriter Jimmy Webb, performed several tunes for the crowd.
Former President Bill Clinton
Ms. Steenbergen, who has known the Clintons since they all lived in Arkansas 30 years ago, then introduced Mr. Clinton as her "favorite president so far."
The former president received a roaring ovation from the crowd and drew laughs when he described the unique dynamic of a family that includes a husband who was president, and a wife who wants to be.
"She calls me from somewhere at least once a week," said Mr. Clinton, "and says 'do you realize I'm 15 years older than you when you did this, this is hard work!'"
Sen. Clinton then took the stage to another rousing ovation and delivered a polished address, though straying little from her standard stump speech.
She touched on issues including health care, the standing of America around the world, the economy, energy, and global warming.
Ms. Clinton struck a chord with the crowd when she noted that changing weather patterns are having a direct effect on the cost and availability of property insurance. "I don't know as much about what's happening in Massachusetts or here on the Vineyard, but I can tell you that in New York, on Long Island, Allstate and other insurance companies are canceling homeowners' policies," said Sen. Clinton. "They've done long-term weather projections. They see frequency and intensity of hurricanes increasing. So global warming is an issue that is not just about the future, it's about now."
The most electric moment in the event came near the end of her speech. Sen. Clinton got an instant and prolonged standing ovation when she said "I am very excited, that I have the possibility of becoming the first woman president. We will make it happen."
For Glenna Barkan of Oak Bluffs, the campaign rally reminded her of the time she traveled to see President John F. Kennedy's motorcade. "I was very impressed with Hillary, and how strong she was," said Ms. Barkan. "I was leaning toward Obama. I was undecided, but she may have convinced me. I didn't realize how good she is at this. You never get that from watching TV."
A sell-out crowd of 2,200 paid $50 to sit inside, while hundreds more watched and listened for free from the lawn outside the Tabernacle.
Outside on the lawn, the reaction was similar. "I was impressed by how well she could connect, this far away," said Melissa Cronin, a summer resident of the Campground. "Everyone around us was cheering and screaming. Even the dogs were going crazy."
"There's definitely a personal connection, you can sense the energy, the emotion, how they're connecting to the community," said Mia Espy, of West Tisbury.
"I did not want to miss this," said Sarah Thulin of Aquinnah. "It's sort of a, as my husband calls it, a grandparent moment, where you can hopefully say someday to your grandchild 'I was at the Tabernacle hearing Hillary, who went on to be our first woman president.' It's a pivotal time for our nation."
Flanked by Secret Service agents, Sen. Clinton spent nearly 30 minutes following the speech greeting well wishers, signing autographs and posing for pictures, before zooming off to the Edgartown home of longtime supporters Frank and Carol Biondi for yet another fund-raising event.