State Democratic bigwigs were out in force for Hillary Clinton's campaign stop at North Little Rock High School today: She got introductions from Tracy Steele, Martha Dixon, Dustin McDaniel, Marion Berry, Mike Ross, Vic Snyder, and Mike Beebe. They and Clinton spoke in the school's gymnasium to a full house, about half of which consisted of NLR High students.
The speech focused largely on policy -- ending the war and the economy were big talking points -- although Clinton made several anecdotal nods to her Arkansas past. (The Governor's Mansion chef who worked for the Clintons was in attendance.)
A bit of news from the speech: Clinton announced a new policy initiative on credit card rates and financial abuses by lenders. The initiative proposes to implement a 30 percent cap on annual credit card interest rates and work toward a lower rate; to create a commission that would police lending abuses; to establish rules for when credit card companies can charge late fees; to require clearer disclosure of credit card terms; to stop payday lenders from evading state laws that are more stringent than federal law; and to impose stricter limits on refund anticipation loans.
Check out our video box directly below the Arkansas Blog for Clinton's explanation of the policy. I'll post a PDF of the initiative if I can get my hands on it. (Here
Barack Obama's Arkansas campaign has scheduled an afternoon response to Clinton's visit. I'll have an update after the press conference.
UPDATE: Obama's Arkansas team is spinning Clinton's visit as a victory for Obama. Clinton's burning valuable campaign time in a state she should be able to win handily, emphasized Obama spokesman Pat O'Brien at the afternoon press conference. I don't really buy the logic -- it's smart policy to not take your home state for granted (Huck?). Otherwise O'Brien kept Obama's expectations low by acknowledging that he's the underdog here.
The Obama campaign may not expect a comeback win, but that's not the point of the Arkansas operation -- they're really playing for delegates. Obama's Arkansas director Tim Fraser has been giving talks across the state -- Fayetteville and Jonesboro have been on the itinerary -- presumably in the hope of picking up a delegate or two in the congressional districts. It's a totally grassroots effort, with none of the firepower that Clinton's getting from the state political establishment. (O'Brien said that the only Obama endorsement he could think of was from Rep. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff.)
O'Brien also addressed John Edwards' retirement from the campaign, although he made no prediction as to what effect it might have on the race. The timing of the Edwards announcement is somewhat baffling -- why not stay in six more days until Super Tuesday? Apparently he felt that he couldn't expect to be a factor in the race at all. So much for the convention kingmaker theory. He's not endorsing at the moment, so it's not clear that he dropped out in favor of either Obama or Clinton.
Speculation has been that an Edwards departure would help Clinton attract white voters, but that seems like perverse reasoning to me -- won't left-leaning Edwards supporters naturally gravitate toward Obama? To the white-vote theory's credit, though, exit polls
in the previous primaries
have shown that Edwards got a higher-than-expected proportion of moderate and conservative Democratic voters and a low proportion of liberal ones. Considering what Edwards' message has been, that suggests many of his supporters don't know enough about their candidate and are making assumptions about him based on something other than his current platform. If those assumptions are based his race, or the fact that he ran on a more moderate ticket with John Kerry in 2004, then perhaps Clinton really can expect a good chunk of his votes on Tuesday. (John B. Judis expects
a split in the Edwards vote, with a slight tilt toward Clinton in the South.)
More Clinton pics after the jump.