PHOENIX —They began arriving a full four hours early, hundreds of people stretching single file outside a Phoenix high school. It was a hot and cloudless day, but the people had come prepared to endure, preparation and endurance being hallmarks of a Hillary Clinton rally.
They slathered on sunscreen. They popped open umbrellas. They reached into purses and fanny packs for little baggies of trail mix, ignoring the yelling Donald Trump supporters across the street, and the carload of Bernie Sanders fans that kept whizzing by — “Bernieeeee!” they shouted through the window, their hair flying free. Their own hairlines glistened with sweat.
“She’s a serious candidate, and she doesn’t have to entertain me,” said Chris Haggerty, 58, a pastor in her third hour of waiting, of moving in small increments toward the high school doors.
Elsewhere in America, Sanders was thundering about a “political revolution.” The Republican front-runner Trump was promising to “bomb the sh--” out of the Islamic State. These were the emotionally cathartic rallies that had come to define this unorthodox political season so far — angry, raucous, anti-establishment and, in Trump’s case, occasionally violent.
A Clinton rally was decidedly none of these things.
What was it, then? What happens at a rally for the presidential candidate who has gotten more votes than anyone else so far — nearly 9 million, which is roughly 2.5 million more than Sanders and 1 million more than Trump?
What does it mean to cheer a person often described by pundits as having a “passion gap” compared with her rivals, to go bonkers for a detail-laden stump speech that crescendos on words such as prudent and percent of your income?
In the line, Clinton campaign workers handed out bottles of water.
Rose Smith, 55, took one and glanced over at the Trump yellers, which included a man with a Smith & Wesson 9mm strapped to his thigh shouting that Clinton should be “taken down a notch.” She did not yell back.
“Trump’s angry; Bernie’s angry all the time,” said Smith, a retired elementary schoolteacher who said she was not angry other than whatever frustration she felt toward the other candidates and their followers, which she sublimated. “Just realistically, I think it’s not a matter of pumping the team up, it’s a matter of playing the game. You can’t have that kind of demeanor. I can’t imagine these men being in the room when some crisis really happens. Is emotion going to rule them, or are they going to have a level head and make calm decisions?”
The man next to her was nodding.
“They always say she’s not emotional enough,” said Rick Beitman, 31, a graduate student sipping from a Starbucks cup. “I like Bernie — my heart is where his heart is, but my head is where Hillary’s is. She’s more logical. She has more structure and organization to her ideas.”
“She’s like a steady plateau,” Smith said.
To her and others baking in the sun, this was in fact the paradox of being a Clinton supporter at a Clinton rally, the thing that no one seemed to understand. They were excited by her lack of excitability; thrilled by her boring wonkiness; enthusiastic not about the prospect of some dramatic change but about Clinton’s promise of dogged, small-bore pragmatism, a result of decades of government experience they considered a qualification rather than a liability.
Theirs was the campaign that voters so often said they wanted — one of substance and detail, of practicality rather than dreamy idealism, of freedom through discipline. The Bernie car sped by again.
“Bernieeee! Wooo!” the young people yelled through the windows.
Vincent Medina, 40, who took the day off from his job as director of early-childhood education, rolled his eyes.
“I know with Bernie it’s all revolutionary,” he said. “But there’s excitement here, too.”
Not the thrill of revolt and rage, he explained, but rather the joy of hearing a candidate speak in excruciating yet accurate detail about Head Start and Early Head Start, the federally funded programs to help low-income children prepare for kindergarten.
“Like when she went to Flint,” Medina continued, referring to the Michigan city where possibly hundreds of children have been poisoned by toxins in the water supply. “She was strongly encouraging the government to put Head Start in place because she knows one of the requirements is annual lead screening.”
Sweat was beading on his forehead.
“She really gets down to specifics,” he said as the line inched forward, and Clinton campaign workers, many in blue blazers, began shouting out instructions.
“No homemade signs!” one said, and a few people threw away their hand-drawn placards.
“Stickers?” another said, handing out little “H” stickers with Clinton’s arrow logo.
“Oh, I’m very excited!” said Randall Clark, who owns a small delivery business and pressed the H onto his shirt.
By “excited,” he explained, he meant that he looked forward to “continued, incremental, small changes” on issues such as global warming, gun control and health care, for this was the worldview inside the Clinton camp. Progress was a thing achieved not in grand, sweeping gestures but rather by relentless, often unrecognized toil, not unlike their own here, now.
A carload of Trump supporters sped by — “USA! USA!” they yelled.
“He’s an embarrassment — I can’t wait for her to win,” said Bea Rios, 65, a retired bank teller who came to support Clinton even though her back was hurting.
“The Trump clown car,” muttered Haggerty, the pastor.
“I’m so excited,” said her friend Bonnie Coon, 68, as they finally reached the doors of the gym, where the music was not Flogging Molly’s “Revolution,” which often blares at Sanders’s rallies, or Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” which usually blasts at Trump’s.
It was the Gap Band’s “Outstanding,” circa 1982, which was followed by a Top 40 melange, played at medium volume.
“We are mature and responsible people,” said Balbir Grewal, 65, raising her voice slightly over the music.
Inside, the mature and the responsible milled around or sat on the bleachers.
A lone woman in a red hat danced without inhibition when Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” came on. People who knew one another from fundraisers said hello. Grewal sat down.
“I’m not a kid,” continued the retired restaurateur, who became an activist in the local Sikh community when a young Sikh man was murdered after 9/11. “I don’t need to get angry and yell.”
She was here, she said, because she was a serious person. And in Clinton, Grewal saw a larger, more powerful version of her own serious self: a person who could be doing anything but was working with local law enforcement to prevent another pointless death, teaching young Indian women English, and counseling others about how to stick up for themselves in a sexist and restrictive culture.
“She’s a strong person, and that’s why she’s getting such crap,” Grewal offered, her voice rising. “She knows she can do it, and she’s not going to take any crap from anybody. I just love her.”
Karen Powell, a community volunteer and former school vision planner, leaned over.
“People are always telling me I’m too intense and serious — well, okay then. How bad could that be?” she said over the music. “We are rolling up our sleeves and working.”
And if nothing else, this was what a Clinton rally was about: work.
On stage, a local elected official began by introducing Clinton as a “doer!”
The civil rights and labor activist Dolores Huerta spoke about Clinton’s role in passing the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“The CHIP program,” Huerta said, revving up the crowd, “that was Hillary! That was Hillary!”
Mark Kelly, the husband of former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, compared the Clinton candidacy with a space shuttle mission.
“It takes a lot of hard work, over a long period of time,” the retired astronaut said, and soon, Clinton walked onstage, and the crowd roared and waved their briefcase-size, campaign-approved signs.
“It is so exciting to be here!” Clinton began.
“We love you!” someone yelled, but very soon Clinton turned serious, introducing a couple whose daughter was killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting and explaining the need for “common-sense gun reform,” at which point the crowd began roaring.
“And I want you to think about this,” Clinton said over the cheers, but the crowd would not settle down.
“We want you!” a man yelled out.
“I want you, to want me!” Clinton yelled back a bit haltingly, and people began chanting: “We want you! We want you!”
But Clinton would not indulge. She moved on through her talking points, which did not really make for catchy zingers but were cheered nonetheless: Not free college tuition, but debt-free college tuition. Not scrapping the Affordable Care Act, but improving it. Not just education, but early -childhood education.
“Yes! Yes!” a teacher yelled from the back row, and Clinton moved on to how sad it was that Arizona did not participate in CHIP.
“It’s a three-to-one federal match!” she said in the depths of her stump speech.
People cheered this, and they cheered all the way until the very end, which was not so much an emotional moment as it was a sobering call to action.
“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work!” Clinton said, deploying the rallying cry that the people now standing and cheering understood. They had their instructions, and when the rally ended, they did not linger long. There was work to do.