CHARLOTTE — Was it happy coincidence that Hillary Clinton’s granddaughter is called Charlotte? It certainly helped the former senator, former secretary of state, former first lady and perhaps future presidential candidate get the audience in the Charlotte Convention Center ballroom cheering with the line, “I can’t tell you how much we love the name.” Another grandmother, Kay Hagan, said, “What a name that was picked for her new grand-baby!” It was all to the point in a homey sort of way, framing the message of the day — family, women’s issues and equality and opportunity. During the wait before both took the stage, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” set a no-nonsense mood.
Clinton was in Charlotte on the Saturday after the Thursday start of early voting to inspire volunteers and voters to get Hagan first over the finish line after a grueling campaign. The incumbent Democratic U.S. senator is running a little ahead of her Republican opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, in most polls, with the gender gap making a difference. But a little more than a week before the midterm election, which could determine which party controls the Senate, the race is still too close to call.
What better time for a Democratic Party star to connect with a crowd, and with women in particular? If anyone can shift a Tillis-led
conversation from dire headlines on Ebola and national security, would it be Clinton talking about equal pay, health-care choices and limitless opportunities for those grandchildren as they grow? A few hours before and a few blocks away at the Mecklenburg County GOP headquarters, several Republican women with a different message tried, figuratively at least, to drown out the din of the crowd of more than 1,000 and intermittent shouts of “Run, Hillary!”
Though Clinton and Hagan seemed very much in sync by Saturday afternoon, that morning, in an interview with She the People, Hagan said, “I don’t know what she’s going to be talking about, but she’s going to be talking to everybody in North Carolina.” She said, “People enjoy that it gets the energy, the excitement, up; it really does show the importance of North Carolina on the national level.”
Hagan’s morning breakfast appearance at Charlotte’s Big View Diner featured a small room with a buffet and guest speaker Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, who became famous as a member of the rock-and-roll group Sha Na Na and is traveling the country talking to voters about the importance of not turning Medicare into a voucher system or Social Security into one that is privatized. “I love the music of the ’50s, but it doesn’t mean I want to go back to the ’50s,” said Bauman, a co-founder of Senior Votes Count, which works to “elect leaders to protect and advance the quality of life for older Americans.” He played on a keyboard and struck his signature flexed-profile pose before getting serious. At 67, he told the group of mostly older women, “this is my crowd.”
“They do not want that doughnut hole reopened where they could possibly be hit with another $900 in costs,” said Hagan as caravans shuttled some from the diner to early voting. “They know that my support is with them 100 percent. And the impact that Thom Tillis has had on their grandchildren’s education has been disastrous.”
About the wall-to-wall television ads that no one can ignore, Hagan said she thinks everyone has been “surprised” by “the millions of dollars coming into North Carolina, particularly from out-of-state billionaires who don’t know our state, who don’t know our people. They don’t know our schools, and yet they want to control the state.”
Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, making a quick afternoon stop in Charlotte, had a different message for Tillis volunteers who took a break from calling voters. She invoked Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” and said that “taking back the Senate runs right through North Carolina.”
Ada Fisher, a retired doctor and a member of the Republican National Committee from North Carolina, alluded to the Clinton rally when she told She the People, “They don’t speak to me on women’s issues.” She said, “Equal pay has never been the issue. It’s that people want equal pay for equivalent work.” And reproductive health as an issue “drives me crazy,” she said. “If you want to use birth control, fine, but you pay for it, not the government. I would say the same for Viagra.” Women Speak Out PAC, a partner of the national antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List, has been supporting Tillis with endorsements, ads and door-to-door get-out-the-vote efforts. On Saturday morning, a rally organized by Women Speak Out was scheduled in Burnsville, N.C., featuring Rep. Mark Meadows (R), wife Debbie and other antiabortion activists, including North Carolina state director for the group, Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition. On Thursday, Fitzgerald said in a statement that she had voted, saying: “The choice between Senator Kay Hagan and House Speaker Thom Tillis could not be more clear. Thom Tillis is pro-life and pro-marriage. Kay Hagan is radically pro-abortion and supports same-sex marriage.”
What do family values mean to Laura Francini, 39, of Mooresville, N.C.? She thought it was important for her three daughters to see and hear Hillary Clinton, the woman she supported for president for 2008 — with the button to prove it — and hopes will run again. She said she met President Obama in June 2013 when he visited a Mooresville middle school to talk about technology in education, a topic that appealed to the computer science major.
“The more I share with my girls, the better active citizens they will be,” Francini said. Oldest daughter Margot, 11, got a head start, blogging the Charlotte-hosted Democratic National Convention for the Girl Scouts two years ago. Margot said Saturday, “I want to learn more about the candidates.” Francini held 2-year-old Liza as the family waited for Scarlett, 9, to arrive at the Hagan-Clinton event. She said that she has been making calls for Hagan and that she was on board with the senator’s position on abortion rights and support for equal pay legislation. She called the North Carolina legislature’s conservative tilt, led by Tillis, “embarrassing.”
Since the morning, Hagan had changed from neutral colors into bright red for the rally with Clinton. It fit the mood of the fired-up crowd. Clinton referenced previous Tillis comments on equal pay for women, including calling new laws “campaign gimmicks” that would add unnecessary regulation. Clinton said she thought she must have misheard him. Usually, she said with a sly smile, “there’s a subtle way to be discriminatory and insulting.” She acknowledged the head start her granddaughter would have, with a former president and senator and secretary of state paving the way, and said, “The American dream should be there for every single child.”
It was that kind of Saturday, making clear the choices facing the state’s voters, particularly the women, who may be the key to choosing North Carolina’s senator.