Hillary Clinton waved to the 5,100 ticketed guests at the Rutgers Athletic Center who gave her a standing ovation. The former Secretary of State and groundbreaking presidential candidate kept them transfixed for a little over an hour talking about women, politics and how she’s not going to get off the stage and shut up.
“They never said that to any man who was not elected,” said Clinton to the crowd. “But, I am really committed to speaking out and doing what I can to have a voice in the debate about where our country’s going, because maybe we’ll get to it, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I have some concerns.”
Clinton appeared as the 2018 Clifford Case Professorship and fielded questions from Ruth Mandel, director of Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. She received a $25,000 honorarium, paid not with tuition or public money, but through an endowment. She directed her message mostly at young women and minorities, urging them to run and to stay politically involved.
“The biggest challenge we face is keeping up our momentum, of sustaining the energy that I’ve now seen across our country. We just saw it first of all in the march the day after the inauguration, and now we’ve seen it on the March for Our Lives. And recognizing that’s so important, to bring people with you and to share that energy and to build those coalitions. But it will all come to naught if you don’t show up and vote,” said Clinton.
To that end, Clinton’s launched a PAC called “Onward Together.” It helps recruit political candidates and shows them how to access resources. For the faithful who flocked to the event, Clinton’s message of course resonated.
“We have to keep the momentum going, and if we stop we let the ‘bad guys’ take over,” said Jenny Vila of Edison.
“She’s a real role model,” Rachel Clapsis of Monroe Township said. When asked if Clinton should stay involved in the upcoming midterm elections, she said, “I really hope that she does. Like, I really, really hope that she does, yes.”
“I don’t think she’s necessarily getting involved directly. I think that she’s really kind of inspiring other people to kind of go out there and change the world for themselves, in their own way,” said Matthew Bashore of New York City.
But is Clinton just too controversial for the midterm campaigns as New Jersey Democrats target GOP-held congressional seats? She’s already a component in red state Republican attack ads, particularly after she recently characterized Trump voters as “looking backwards.”
“People that were her biggest supporters are now saying, ‘What is she doing? Why doesn’t she just go home?'” said President Donald Trump.
“She runs into some trouble, I think, when the Democrats are reaching out to Republicans, because she’s pretty unpopular, I think, on the Republican side,” said Seton Hall Political Science Professor Matt Hale.
Hale says Clinton is a champion fundraiser who could boost Democrats’ chances in toss-up districts like the 11th, with its strong women candidates, Mikie Sherrill and Tamara Harris.
“New Jersey is really a centrist Democratic state. New Jersey is right in her wheelhouse,” said Hale.
“I think there are going to be many Democrats who would like to have her campaign for them on the trail. I would certainly welcome her campaigning for me,” said Rep. Frank Pallone.
Clinton still radiates star power. The question is whether she stay involved in a supporting role without becoming a polarizing figure?