Hillary Clinton made her fifth trip to the South Bend / Mishawaka area Sunday, and before her rally across from Howard Park, she sat down with me one on one.
In spite of a slight lead over challenger Barack Obama in Indiana, Hillary Clinton knows that every vote counts, and is energized by the people she's meeting in the Hoosier State.
“There's something about the state, maybe because they haven't had the chance to do this in forty years,” she said.
I asked her why Indiana voters should choose her over Obama.
“I'm the only candidate with a plan to fix NAFTA, to take on China, the make sure we don't lose more manufacturing jobs -- especially defense manufacturing jobs,” Clinton answered. “The economy and the war in Iraq are the overriding issues, and we need a president who, on day one, can go in there and get to work.”
“I want to get back to supporting the middle class, because we've had a president for the last seven years who has really favored the rich and the wealthy and well-connected, and I think it's time we have a president again who says, wait a minute, it’s the middle class that's the backbone of America. That’s what I believe in, and that’s what I'll fight for.
And while she wants the oil companies to pay for our gas tax this summer, she acknowledges that it won't take care of the problem –- she is prepared to take on OPEC.
“The price should be around 50 or 55 dollars, when it’s 120 dollars. The energy traders are sneaking through something called the Enron Loophole -- they are unregulated,” she explained. “We've got to re-regulate them, and I think starting with an investigation and quickly moving to re-regulate them and hold them accountable is exactly what we need to do.”
She is also no fan of President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform.
“I am against it and I will end it because I do not believe it is working, I think it is undermining teaching and learning. Instead of being cooperative with our teachers in the classroom, it has imposed this unfounded mandate on them and it has basically upended a lot of the curriculum and the special events,” Clinton explained. “One size doesn’t fit all. I will be a president who listens to our teachers.”
“I was recently endorsed by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton, and that's what he said, that he trusted me to end this war with honor, to bring our troops home, to take care of them,” she recounted.
I was interested to have Hillary explain why she initially supported the war in Iraq.
“I cast a sincere vote that I take responsibility for,” she answered. “It was on my best information and understanding at the time, and also my belief that the president said that he would let the inspectors finish their inspections. I took him at his word and it turned out that he didn't do that.”
She says she'll start bringing our troops home within 60 days.
And while she wants oil companies to pay our gas tax this summer, she also called OPEC a monopoly cartel.
“If I were president I would launch a Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission study, investigation right now because I do believe the speculators are driving up the cost of oil.”
I asked her whether the world will accept a woman in charge.
“I believe so and here's why: I have been in the Senate now for seven years, I've worked across the aisle on a lot of important issues, have helped to pass legislation that's already made a difference in Indiana, like getting health care for National Guard members.”
If elected, Hillary would be the first president with a spouse who also held the office of President of the United States. I asked her what role Bill Clinton would play in her White House.
“He would play the role that spouses of presidents historically play -- as an advisor, a confidant, a sounding board. I would ask him to take on specific assignments, particularly around the world, because we have to repair our position in the world that has been badly damaged.”
After seeing John Kerry swiftboated, I was curious to know if Hillary was worried about the Whitewater scandal becoming an issue again.
“I don't think so and here's why: I was investigated to the tune of about sixty or seventy million dollars and they found nothing,” she explained. “I was laughing and said the other day that I have baggage -- every person has baggage -- but baggage that has been rummaged through for years now. There's not going to be anything new.