Bill Clinton stumps for Hillary in Española

Former President Bill Clinton campaigns Tuesday in Española for his wife, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton at the Plaza De Española. Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican

ESPAÑOLA — There was an atmosphere of an old-fashioned Rio Arriba County political rally Tuesday at the Plaza de Española, where former President Bill Clinton came to campaign for his wife, Hillary Clinton.

There were lots of Democratic politicians, several of whom spoke before the former president took the stage. There was much talk about how the Clintons care about towns like Española and working families, and how New Mexico does better when there is a Democrat in the White House. There was also talk about how Hillary Clinton doesn’t play to racial prejudice — like a certain presumptive Republican presidential nominee does.

Bill Clinton himself played upon most of these themes in his half-hour speech.

Praising the diversity of his audience, he said one thing he likes about coming to Northern New Mexico is that “I get to see our friends the Sikhs with their white turbans. It reminds me of how fortunate we are to live in a country where everybody is entitled to be treated like human beings.”

But for those who also attended last week’s speech by Hillary Clinton’s rival in the June 7 Democratic primary, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont,at the Santa Fe Community College, there were noticeable differences between the two events, such as a much smaller crowd at Clinton’s speech and a lower energy level.

While there was plenty of positive response to Bill Clinton’s applause lines Tuesday, it wasn’t anywhere near the level of enthusiasm that Sanders invoked.

Sanders drew about 2,500 to the community college Friday. Allen Sanchez, manager of Rio Arriba County Emergency Management, on Tuesday estimated the Española crowd at about 800.

The Española rally seemed to have a higher percentage of Hispanics than Sanders’ speech attracted, but the Sanders event drew more young people.

True, there are factors that might explain the smaller draw. It was in Española, not Santa Fe. It was on a Tuesday evening, not a Friday afternoon. And Bill Clinton is not the actual candidate, while Sanders is.

But a recent article in The Washington Post observed that Bill Clinton is not attracting big crowds this year on the campaign trail. “Usually, he draws no more than a few hundred people, in contrast to the crowds of 10,000 and up that flock to the mega-rallies of mogul Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders,” the newspaper said.

Clinton’s speech fell on the same day as a more raucous Albuquerque appearance by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, which drew thousands of supporters. The event also attracted a few hundred protesters, some of whom burned Trump T-shirts, overran barricades and charged at police officers.

The former president rarely mentioned Trump or Sanders by name.

Clinton thanked New Mexicans for voting for him both times he ran for president in the 1990s. He acknowledged several of the New Mexico Democrats who had spoken before him, such as Attorney General Hector Balderas and secretary of state candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

The biggest jab he took at Sanders concerned the senator’s plan for free college tuition for every qualified student.

“It sounds good to say everyone’s going to have tuition-free college,” Clinton said. “The problem is [with Sander’s] plan, if you read the fine print, it requires the state to come up with a third of the money.” He also said Sanders’ plan doesn’t apply to private schools “that are educating a lot of students who come from working-class families. They ought to be able to get aid, too.”

He described in detail Hillary Clinton’s plan to reduce student college debt, including free community college, expanding work-study programs and allowing people to refinance their student loans.

Bill Clinton also talked in detail about one of the last major programs he signed into law, the New Market Tax Credit, which was designed to increase investment in low-income areas. He said his wife would expand the program as well as simplify it.

This is the second time Bill Clinton has given a speech at the Española Plaza. In 2006, he came here to stump for Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Diane Denish.He is scheduled to speak again Wednesday in Albuquerque.

Hillary Clinton has not appeared in New Mexico this election season — except for a private fundraiser in Albuquerque last year.

But she has been to Española. In 2008, shortly after she conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton campaigned for Obama at Northern New Mexico College.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.

Photos by Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican