Hillary Clinton's stump speech Monona Terrace on Monday night bore the symptoms of an increasingly atrophied campaign. For starters, some 16,000 fewer people turned out to see the former First Lady than did her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination nearly a week earlier at the Kohl Center.
Last week's visits to UW-Madison campus by daughter Chelsea and husband Bill also appeared to have failed in their goal to mobilize the student vote for tomorrow's state primary. Middle-aged women formed the bulk of the event's roughly 3,300-person crowd.
The press pen also contained fewer media heavyweights, whose presence was more on par with that which covered Republican contender Mike Huckabee's swoop through Madison last Thursday. This, on a day when Clinton dominated the news cycle with accusations that her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, plagiarized a part of a speech he gave Saturday night. Obama, in turn, spent most of the day shrugging off the charges.
Finally, in contrast with Obama's megawatt week driving home his point across Wisconsin, Clinton struggled to bask in the twilight of once certain victory.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York) performed the opening bits, with Falk administering the same words she did when introducing Chelsea Clinton at the Memorial Union last Monday, except this time pointing out that Clinton had helped broker peace in Ireland.
And if three introductions weren't warm-up enough, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and State Assemblyman Jon Erpenbach then mounted the stage, touting Clinton's commitment to universal healthcare, pet causes both Baldwin and Erpenbach have made little progress on. With Clinton in tow, the crowd chanted, "Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!" as the New York Senator gripped the mic and took to working the audience.
This was a decidedly more intimate affair, with Clinton laying out the case for why she should be president. "The next president will inherit an array of challenges," she said. "It's imperative we have a president who's ready on day one."
Shortly after beginning her speech, a man waving a placard reading, "Liar," was whisked from the crowd and taken by police into the men's room, presumably to be questioned about his political infidelity in this tightly-winched affair.
In the risers behind Clinton sat the evening's dignitaries, which included the opening speakers, her daughter, Dick Cates from the Lawton Cates law firm where Clinton worked fresh out of college and several Wisconsin State Journal staffers, who were earlier shuffled past the press pen by event volunteers.
Without going into specifics, Clinton rehashed America's struggles, promising to end wars, fix economies, create jobs, expand healthcare, boost education and halt global warming. She decried the misrule of George W. Bush, for his "contempt and disregard for the Constitution."
She chalked Obama up to being just one-of-the-guys, arguing, "We don't need to have beer with the next president. We've had that president. When the cameras are gone and the lights are off, the president is in that office alone."
The candidate also touched on her 35 years of experience "fighting for change," and spoke of the huddled masses she's mingled with on the campaign trail thus far, including a homeless hairdresser and single mom she met in Kenosha this past weekend. "Some people only think of the next election, but I think of the next generation," she roared. "I'm not running for president to put Band-Aids on our problems."
Clinton has steadily promised more than Obama and tonight she consummated her campaign's local ardor with a predictable climax. She waxed seductive on solving the country's problems, but, like Obama, offered few tangible solutions for them. But Clinton did manage to give those who came something that Obama didn't: Refreshments.
Specifically, Lay's potato chips and Pepsi brand sodas. It was an unexpected treat from a financially-strapped campaign, as was the live polka band. But if she really feels that unabashed pandering to the state's German heritage will win her Wisconsin, then maybe having that beer isn't such a bad idea after all.