The national Democratic party deployed its most popular asset to San Antonio Thursday in hopes of wresting back control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Republicans: the ever-charismatic Bill Clinton. The forty-second president of the United States went to a rally at South San Antonio High School to stump for Pete Gallego and Joaquín Castro, two Democratic candidates for Congress.
“You’re gonna determine this election,” Clinton said. “You’re gonna determine it by both how you vote and whether you vote. There’s no doubt in my mind that if every single person in Texas who was eligible to vote registered and voted, this would be a Democratic state.”
As Clinton spoke, Julián and Joaquín Castro stood behind him. They were flanked by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett and Gallego, who has been fighting a pitched battle against incumbent U.S. Representative Quico Canseco, R-San Antonio, to represent the sprawling CD-23, which stretches from western San Antonio to El Paso and is home to some 847,000 people.
While Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, is heavily favored to win his bid to represent Texas’s 20th Congressional District, the Gallego-Canseco race remains a toss-up. “If we get the voters out, we’ll win,” said Rebecca Acuña, a spokeswoman for Gallego.
Clinton was in full “explainer-in-chief” mode, recycling lines on student loans, the budget, and health care from his rousing DNC speech. But he also got specific, addressing issues that had emerged in the Gallego-Canseco race, including a set of offensive fliers mailed by the Canseco campaign that suggested Jesus was on the incumbent’s team. “The framers of the constitution, they would be appalled by anybody trying to use any religious imagery to advance a particular candidate,” Clinton said.
Canseco’s campaign has been bankrolled by the Koch brothers, and it shows. “If you look at the campaign that’s being run against Pete Gallego, it’s your basic, standard, tea party deal—’the government would mess up a two-car parade’ and ‘God is on my side.’ Isn’t that basically what they’re saying?” he said.
Clinton also expressed his enthusiasm for the Castro brothers, the two current darlings of the Democratic party. “I’m a big fan of the Castro brothers,” Clinton said, before adding, “I just said that, but by this afternoon, the Republicans will have an ad on in Florida saying Clinton endorses Fidel and Raul—but I mean Julián and Joaquín Castro.”
The air conditioner struggled to cool the room in the 85-degree October heat, but the crowd of three thousand gathered in the gymnasium seemed too transfixed by the speaker to mind. Someone held up a hand-painted portrait of Obama. Another waved a hardback copy of My Life, Clinton’s autobiography, in the air. And to the side of the stage, a woman hoisted an inevitable “Hillary & Bill 2016” sign.
A section of the bleachers was filled with a group of postal workers wearing T-shirts that read “Letter Carriers for Obama” and applauding wildly. Across the room, San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich sat in the stands below a sign that read “Vote Texas Welcomes President Clinton.”
As the crowds filed into the gymnasium, both a marching band and a mariachi band played. After performing, a cluster of South San Antonio High School cheerleaders, clad in light blue and navy uniforms, snagged spots in the front row, resting their silver pom poms on the metal barricades as they watched attentively.
Education looms large this election, and to that end, Clinton spoke directly to students as he broke down the nuts and bolts of Obama’s student loan reforms, which, he said, “disproportionally affect Hispanic Americans.”
“Listen carefully. People don’t know this, and this affects your life,” Clinton said. “You will all be able to borrow money directly from the federal government…. Most importantly, you, every one of you, who borrows money will have an absolute right to pay that loan back at a low, fixed percentage of your income for twenty years.” Romney would roll those reforms back, he said.
“Another reason to have a Congressman Castro and Congressman Gallego is that when the tea party comes to them and says ‘we want to cut taxes and get rid of all this education spending, it’s a waste of money,’ they will say ‘no, it is not,’ ‘it is our future, and we refuse to give away our future.'” Clinton threw his weight behind San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s Pre-K 4 SA initiative on the November 6 ballot, a ⅛-cent sales tax increase that would be used to put thousands more four-year-olds in full-day pre-K.
His speech was peppered with classic Clinton asides, like this one on the tea party: “By the way, I have to say that for people who tell us every day how much they hate the government and why we should hate it, they spend a whole lot of time trying to get ahold of it.” And he played his part as a faithful Obama surrogate, working in lines the incumbent president recently trotted out on the trail: “President Obama told us a couple of days ago that the country is in the grips of a massive public health crisis called ‘Romnesia,’ which is designed to make us forget everything that was said in the Republican primary.”
Before he stepped off the stage to work the crowd, Clinton took off his blue suit jacket and handed it to an aide, revealing a blue-striped shirt. Watching him in action, it was clear not much had changed since his first presidential campaign: there was still the music—’Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’—and his seemingly boundless enthusiasm to shake hands and kiss babies. But for his white hair, it could have been 1992.
And he couldn’t resist an encore, reappearing onstage with Julián Castro and Gallego, who were both holding their young children—living symbols, Clinton said, of what is “really most at stake,” i.e. the future. That, he said, is the main concern for “those of us who have more yesterdays than tomorrows.”
Around five o’clock, about thirty minutes after the rally wrapped up, Clinton finally emerged from the building. Secret Service agents appeared eager to shuffle him into an idling SUV, which was bound for the airport and a flight to Beaumont. He was set to appear at a six o’clock rally for former U.S. Representative Nick Lampson, who is running for retiring congressman Ron Paul’s seat in CD-14. But as he walked toward the waiting motorcade, Clinton saw a throng of people hoping for another glimpse of the forty-second president, and he bounded off to mingle with the crowd.