The hundreds of union members at the downtown Sheraton today — many holding Hillary Clinton signs and donning shirts with her campaign’s official FedEx-style logo — clearly came ready to cheer the presidential candidate. She spoke for 30 minutes about improving the lives of the middle class, a higher minimum wage and being tough with China. She received a standing ovation before, during and after her speech.
But what happened before Clinton even got in the room might’ve been the most positive sign for her campaign in Philly. Union leaders, like the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten and TWU of America’s Harry Lombardo, addressed the large audience, and the message from most of them was clear: Sure, we’d support Bernie Sanders if he’s nominated (Sanders speaks at the convention Thursday), but Clinton is the choice of the unions.
It bodes well for Clinton, since success at the polls in Philadelphia tends to go through unions and the votes they corral. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, hinted as much when she said, “We worked so hard to elect Jim Kenney as mayor.” She said Clinton was the only candidate who had gotten things done, and talked of the hard work needed to attain incremental change.
Congressman Bob Brady, who spoke a couple of hours before Clinton took the stage, said Sanders’ Wisconsin momentum “doesn’t matter.” Clinton thanked the local party leader at the beginning of her speech and added that she told him to get back to work, since “we have a lot to do here in Philly.”
Clinton won Pennsylvania in 2008 but lost Philadelphia badly to Barack Obama, who scored nearly two-thirds of the vote. A Quinnipiac poll released today showed her hanging on to a six-point lead over Sanders in Pennsylvania — Philadelphia will matter greatly if she wants to win the state.
She campaigned in Philly in January at an exclusive gala hosted by a finance company, but this was her first major public address here for the 2016 primary season. Clinton largely stuck to the union message. She said her voting record on union support was 100 percent. She said she’d help raise middle class wages.
“We’ve got other candidates talking about building walls,” Clinton said. “My campaign is about breaking the barriers holding working Americans back.”
Toward the end of her speech, Clinton noted the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death was this week. She said he had traveled to Memphis in 1968 to support striking sanitation workers. She then quoted a passage from what she said was his last speech before his death, showing support for unions and promoting an anti-trump message at the same time.
“Dr. King said, ‘let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness,'” Clinton said. “‘Let us move on to make America what it ought to be.’ That is still our mission my friends. I believe with all my heart we can make America what it ought to be.”