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Updated: Clinton and Sabato at U.-Va.

Post reporter Susan Kinzie caught up with Hillary Rodham Clinton today at the University of Virginia. Here's her report:

It's not every intro class that students will line up waiting in the cold for. But yesterday afternoon, the day before the election, Professor Larry J. Sabato had a guest lecturer: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sabato, a legendary professor at the University of Virginia, invited each of the candidates to his 450-student Introduction to American Politics class, and her campaign agreed. Clinton spent well over an hour taking questions from students on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to universal health care to taxes to biofuels, answering in considerable depth, with policy details and personal anecdotes.

Sitting in a leather armchair in the center of the auditorium, Clinton described watching Nelson Mandela, at his inauguration in South Africa, introduce three of the guards who were kind to him in prison. When asked about the environmental impact of biofuels, she talked about how much more efficient sugar cane used in Brazil is than the corn-based ethanol in the United States. Someone surprised her -- and made the audience laugh -- by asking who her favorite Republican was.

"I actually have a lot of favorite Republicans," she said, "but if I mention them they'll probably get in trouble!"

A student asked how she would pay for her universal health care plan, and she went through the numbers, describing where the money could come from. Another, who raises money for ALS research, asked about the morality of stem-cell research, and Clinton talked at length about the complexity of the issues it raises and the need to value the lives of people with diseases that might be cured by the research. A student from Virginia asked why she voted against making English the official language of America; another asked why she characterized President Bush's tax cuts as benefiting the rich.

Freshman Ayno Wilson was thrilled to see her -- she just voted for her, by absentee ballot. But she was disappointed she couldn't ask Clinton about her reliance on big donors and whether she had a plan to improve grass-roots support the way her Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama has done.

"She didn't address that," Wilson said. "One person did ask her about super delegates," saying that Clinton has an advantage because of her and her husbands' connections with party leaders, "but she didn't answer that part of the question."

David Zimring, a graduate student who was one of about 1,000 people in the audience, marveled afterward at how much more detailed and issues-oriented the class was than the stump speeches he had seen on TV. "This is one of those things you can tell your kids about," he said, in an election year that he thinks is the most exciting in decades.

Over the years, Sabato who is as well-known for his political punditry as his lectures, has had Supreme Court justices, governors, senators, Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan -- while still in office -- and many other political leaders.

Students still write to him with memories of Carter sitting on the edge of the table, chatting with the class, Sabato said. "It's a day that they'll always remember from their university experience -- they'll remember the day they saw Hillary Clinton long after they forget every lecture I ever gave them."

"There's no substitute for seeing candidates and office-holders up close. They get to take the measure of them personally -- it makes a big difference," Sabato said.

When students make a personal connection with politics, he said, it lasts a lifetime.

The event overtook campus, with a line of hundreds of students waiting to get through security and a group gathered outside Old Cabell Hall, at one end of Uva's historic Lawn waving signs, clapping and chanting, "H, I! H, I, L! H, I, L, L, A, R, Y! Hillary!" (Clap, clap, clap.) "Our nominee!"

At the end, students gave her a standing ovation, cheering and snapping photos with cell phones, and then the whole auditorium swayed, arms around each other, singing the school's alma mater. As they walked out, many were talking about the issues and what she had said.

"If this had been a room full of pundits," Sabato said, "we would only have asked you about the latest polls and the latest numbers."

By Steve Fehr  |  February 11, 2008; 5:04 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/President  
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