‘This campaign has been a joy’

Times Staff Writer

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had been campaigning for more than 16 hours when she strode onto the stage at Evansville Central High School just before 11 p.m. Monday.

She had started her day at a community college in eastern North Carolina. There were rallies at a train depot, a firehouse in northwest Indiana and another across the state on the Ohio River.

But Clinton betrayed barely a hint of fatigue as she beamed at a crowd of screaming supporters at the high school. “This campaign has been a joy,” she said before launching into a full-throated attack on the Bush administration.

Sen. Barack Obama may still be the favorite to take the Democratic nomination for president when the primary season ends next month.


But as primary voters go to the polls in Indiana and North Carolina today, Clinton is striking the pose of happy warrior.

While Obama labors to retool his message to reach working-class voters, she is exulting in a populist rallying cry that connects her own trials with those of Americans trying to pay for college or healthcare or gasoline at the pump.

She lingers with voters over barbecue and ice cream, and campaigns late into the night.

Obama can still draw thousands to rock concert-like rallies. But in train depots and town squares, at restaurants and schoolhouses, Clinton has brought a new zeal to the trail in recent weeks that she shows no sign of abandoning.


“I love campaigning,” the senator from New York told a crowd over the weekend in Gastonia, N.C., a onetime textile manufacturing mecca decimated by the flood of cheap goods from China.

Working the rope lines after she gives her campaign speech, Clinton seems to feed off the crowd, reaching for books, T-shirts or anything else thrust toward her by fans seeking an autograph.

At a fire station in Merrillville, Ind., Clinton posed with supporters, taking their digital cameras and shooting photographs of herself with them Monday afternoon.

The day before in South Bend, Ind., she slurped on a Snickers Blizzard and chatted with children during an unscheduled half-hour stop at a Dairy Queen.

Even when her days end near midnight, Clinton often pauses before boarding her charter plane to shake another hand and chat with a bus driver or a baggage handler.

Her campaign is on a roll. After easily beating Obama in Pennsylvania, Clinton has closed on him in North Carolina and Indiana in the last two weeks as the senator from Illinois struggled to explain his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

But the former first lady -- who once took aim at a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that she said menaced her husband’s administration -- also appears to be drawing renewed strength by attacking a new set of villains.

Clinton promises to take on Wall Street money managers she says pay too few taxes and oil traders she claims are manipulating the market and driving up prices.


She says she will fight insurance companies who deny Americans coverage and student loan companies she says are preying on people who are unable to afford college.

And she pledges to take on China, whose exports have crippled industries in North Carolina and Indiana.

The jabs draw cheers from her working-class crowds, whose struggles she invokes at each stop. She, in turn, seems to revel in the role of a fighter who can rescue them.

On Monday night, despite a broken microphone and the advancing hour, Clinton delivered a nearly complete campaign speech. And when it was over, she spent more than half an hour signing autographs and posing for photos, finally ending her day after midnight.