Chelsea Clinton touring the area today on a college-campus trek aimed at getting The Kids to vote for her mother -- you know, Hillary? First stop: the University of Texas at Dallas, where hundreds of students packed into the Student Union this morning to hear the former First Daughter speak. Turns out, she was addressing a bunch of Barack Obama supporters -- though ones who insist they're doing their best to remain open to Hillary’s campaign.
“I was actually helping set up for Obama last night, but I want to hear what both sides have to say,” said Ashley Mackie, a 29-year-old pre-med student. “I’m a news junkie -- I’d like to see more debating.” (She'll get her wish tomorrow night, when Obama and Clinton square off in Austin.)
Amanda VanCleave, a master’s student standing on the crowded stairway, said she’s a Republican but is curious to hear more from all of the candidates. “I think when they give us an opportunity like this we should take advantage of it,” she said. “Far too many students don’t. There’s no point in complaining if you don’t vote.”
Then there was sophomore Jacob Mielczarek, who came for different reasons. “I used to have a crush on her when I was 16,” he said, laughing. He says he likes Obama but says he hasn’t yet made his mind up. “It’s good to see something new instead of a bunch of old gray-haired people.”
Indeed, when Chelsea finally took the stage at 11 a.m., an hour after the announced start time, she was looking pretty good: Her long blond tresses and nifty little suit jacket were a far cry from the awkward adolescent who moved into the White House at 12. Instead of giving a stump speech, she immediately opened the floor to questions.
“I’m really here to answer any questions about my mom and her campaign,” she said, addressing the students jam-packed onto the floor and hanging over the balcony and staircases above. “I’m not more proud of anyone in the world.”
One of the first questions was how to dissuade people wary of voting for a woman. “I think people should vote for her because she’s the most qualified,” she answered. Then she compared her mother to female politicians of past and present: Margaret Thatcher, Michelle Bachelet, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. To questions about what her mother would do to make higher education more affordable, she said Hillary would expand tax credits for students, as well as expand national service and allow it to go toward tuition.
“If you’re going to be a teacher or a nurse in a rural area, just that act of service would serve as payment in kind and help pay off your student loans,” Chelsea said.
Throughout her comments, she effectively distinguished her mother’s policy stances from President Bush’s but found it more difficult to differentiate Hillary from Obama, who, as she spoke, was preparing to address throngs of people at Reunion Arena. A number of the proposals she mentioned -- such as national service, comprehensive immigration reform and refusing to repeal the estate tax -- are shared by Obama.
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However, she got an in to tout her mother’s foreign policy chops -- at least compared to Obama's -- when asked how Hillary would deal with anti-American leaders. “When my mom was First Lady, she traveled extensively," Chelsea said. "She’s traveled as a senator, she’s traveled the world, and she’ll continue to do that,” she added, calling the current administration’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol a tragedy and pointing out America’s withdrawal from allies and enemies around the world.
“We need to get back to working with the rest of the world,” she said.
As the minutes wore on toward noon, the crowd thinned a bit as students left to go to class -- and some to head downtown to the Obama rally. For anyone interested in seeing Chelsea today, there are two more opportunities. --Megan Feldman