Clinton campaigns by the border

February 13, 2008 5:50:27 PM PST
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday she was "distressed" by the federal government's efforts to condemn land along the Rio Grande for a border fence and as president would ask for a complete review of border security policy. The border fence didn't come up in her rally before 2,000 people, but responding to a question later, Clinton said she would listen to local residents and emphasize border security based on technology and personnel.

"I am very distressed to hear about the federal government filing eminent domain actions against both private landowners and municipalities," Clinton said. "The people who live here know more about what it will take to secure this border without interfering with business, recreation, family relationships."

The government has filed more than 50 lawsuits against property owners in the Rio Grande Valley in recent weeks to gain access for surveying.

At the rally, Clinton reached for her personal history and a promise of a veterans hospital to rally a crowd in South Texas, which has been a Democratic stronghold and a well of financial support for her campaign.

Hours after losing three more contests to Democratic opponent U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, she was making her second stop in Texas, with its cache of 228 delegates and a Democratic voting population that could be up to half Hispanic, a bloc that favors Clinton.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, introduced Clinton as someone who "has earned our love and respect."

"I first came here nearly 36 years ago," Clinton said. "I went door to door in the border communities, including McAllen, to register voters."

"My first job in politics was registering Hispanic voters," she said. "I came away with such a deep feeling of connection and concern" for South Texas.

After McAllen, Clinton stopped at fairgrounds in Robstown, outside Corpus Christi, where she spoke to an enthusiastic overflow crowd of more than 7,000.

In San Antonio, she went door-to-door in a mixed-income heavily Hispanic neighborhood before a planned appearance at a rally at St. Mary's University. Again, she recalled registering voters in a San Antonio neighborhood that looked much like the mix of historic houses with front porches and air conditioners jetting from windows.

A dozen neighbors wielding camera phones quickly swelled to a crowd of more than 100 as she shook hands and posed for photos with children and supporters. One man kissed her hand; a high school teacher thanked her for generating interest in the electoral process among young people.

Ivonne Martinez, a 32-year-old Clinton supporter, couldn't believe her favorite candidate was on her block shaking hands. "She's got my vote already," said Martinez, who shook Clinton's hand and snapped a photo. "I'm not going to lie. I think it's about time we had a woman president."

The Clinton campaign is focusing on the combined 389 delegates in play in the Texas and Ohio primaries March 4 to quell Obama's surge.

Obama rallied in Wisconsin Tuesday, riding the wave from the day's three victories and the five other straight wins before. Wisconsin and Hawaii will hold their primaries Feb. 19, but began airing Spanish-language radio ads in Texas.

Clinton cast herself as the can-do choice.

"I am in the solutions business," the New York senator said. "My opponent is in the promises business."

Clinton congratulated Obama on his recent victories and said: "Tell him to meet me in Texas -- we're ready."

Obama has said he will begin his Texas campaign after Hawaii and Wisconsin.

Hidalgo County, which includes McAllen, is 90 percent Hispanic, and Clinton is counting on those votes to put her ahead of Obama. But Texas's arcane delegate-awarding system punishes areas, like Hidalgo County, with traditionally low voter turnout, so Clinton may win the primary vote but still not win a proportional share of the delegates from Hispanic areas.

Clinton promised to get a VA hospital for the Valley's 20,000 veterans -- the nearest one is San Antonio, a four-hour drive -- but otherwise focused on her plan for universal health care and the need to stop home foreclosures in the region where the median income is about $30,000.

Hinojosa said Clinton also will campaign at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and again in McAllen next week.

Imelda Mendoza, 18, was in line at the McAllen Convention Center by 6:30 a.m. for the 9 a.m. rally. The high school senior from La Joya will be voting in her first election and said she made up her mind early in the campaign.

"I prefer someone who is experienced," Mendoza said. "She knows how the game is played."

Jose Yanez, 50, is a former nurse and epileptic who lives on $9,000 in disability benefits and what he can scrape together from collecting cans.

"I believe she's going to support a lot of people like me with disabilities," Yanez said.

Clinton's campaign staff lost another key member Tuesday. Deputy campaign manager Mike Henry announced his departure one day after Patti Solis Doyle was replaced as campaign manager with Maggie Williams, a longtime confidante of the former first lady.