Candidate Speeches a Study in Contrasts
By Alec MacGillis
BUTTE, Mont. -- Montana is expected to favor Barack Obama when it goes to the polls on June 3, following the lead of other Western states where he has racked up wins. But when Hillary Clinton's turn came to address a state Democratic Party dinner here last night, she did her best to create a bond between herself and Big Sky Country. Her determination to stay in the race -- despite lagging behind Barack Obama in the pledged delegate count and calls for her withdrawal -- was similar, she suggested, to the resilience that Butte has had for the past century, as it fell from its place as one of the wealthiest towns of the West.
"Throughout Butte's history, you never quit. When the silver market crashed at the end of the 1800s, you refused to give up and found copper. When the empty copper mines closed in the 1950s, you found new mining technologies and kept going. Many times the national press and the pundits have said, 'Butte's a goner,' but you said, 'No we aren't,' and your progress today proves you were right," she said. "And I'm awfully happy to be among people who have the spunk, the courage and the determination to stay in the fight to keep fighting for a better tomorrow, who know that we're going to bring that same spirit to this campaign."
Clinton adopted a feisty tone in her speech to the 4,000 or so Montana Democrats gathered in Butte's civic center, a speech that served in stark contrast to the address Obama had given two hours before. This has been apparent throughout the campaign, but it is growing only more evident as the race enters its final stages: The two candidates could hardly be closer on the issues they address, yet they may as well be speaking different languages, so radically divergent have their presentations become. A historian looking back at this remarkable race could do worse than to simply scrutinize an event like last night's, with the two candidates making a relatively rare back-to-back appearance in the same setting, for clues to why the contest has played out as it has.
Obama entered to a roar and launched his speech with princely ease, smiling broadly through jokes about his newfound determination to learn fly-fishing and rookie Montana Sen. Jon Tester's flattop haircut. Obama proceeded to give more or less a standard stump speech, tailored for a partisan audience with attacks on President Bush and Sen. John McCain, but overlaid with the usual Obama patina of universality: "For too long, too many in Washington have been either out of touch, or out for their own survival. They cling to the policies of the past, or a tired politics that values scoring points against your opponents over solving problems for the people ... a politics that exploits our differences, instead of focusing on the hopes and values we share as a nation."
He read from a teleprompter, stumbling over words at times but still managing to bring the crowd to its feet again and again. He had his litany of policy proposals, but they were framed as a catechism rather than a laundry list. "We believe that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street is struggling. We know that when there is a child in Bismarck who cannot read or a young woman in Boston who cannot afford college, we are all poorer as a nation," he said.
Some of the guests, and some of the energy, had gone out of the room by the time Clinton arrived, but she, too, got a big hand at her entrance, and delivered her own opening quips. Tonally, though, her speech shared much more with those of the Montana senators and other elected officials who addressed the convention than with her rival candidate: It was a streak of partisan points, a drive through all the various issues on which Bush had failed America and on which she would repair the damage. She gave her speech without a teleprompter, glancing down occasionally at notes and only occasionally forgetting a word or stressing the wrong one. She gripped the sides of the podium, and, for emphasis, thrust her arms out in a vise, as if to grab the Republican opposition and shake some sense into it.
Targeting the local audience, she added to her very long catalog of policy fixes a call for more spending on Native American health services and a demand that President Bush sign the new farm bill, which has been derided as wasteful by many on both sides of the aisle but is popular in the Plains states.
The Obama-leaning crowd was less captivated by her speech, with a more dutiful feel to its clapping. But helping carry Clinton through were partisans who rose to their feet at almost every applause line, waving their placards. They included Stacey Craig, a 41-year-old homemaker from Colstrip, who said after the speech that she was slightly perplexed by Obama's clear edge in the hall.
"I just think she's a great leader, a great woman, and can do for this country what needs to be done," she said. She liked Obama fine, and said his speech had given her goosebumps. "As long as there's a Democrat that can win, I'll be happy," she said. "But because she's a woman, she's the one I'm going for so far."
Craig's friend, who was cheering as loudly for Clinton, said she also enjoyed Obama's speech, but thought Clinton's was no worse. "We knew he was going to be good, but she impressed me, too," she said. "She's just as good."
She declined to give her name, she said, because her husband would not allow it.
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