FLINT — Former President Bill Clinton visited Flint Monday afternoon to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, highlighting her policy proposals on the economy and college affordability. Approximately 500 people filled the University of Michigan-Flint’s Northbank Center to hear Clinton speak.
Michigan has received a fair amount of attention from both campaigns this election with recent visits from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Chelsea Clinton, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine and Anne Holton, former Virginia secretary of education and wife of Kaine.
In his remarks, Bill Clinton said the most significant item to emerge from the Democratic National Convention this year were updates to Hillary Clinton’s higher education reform plan, the New College Compact, influenced by her primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I–Vt.).
“You’ve got to make college affordable,” he said. “The most important thing that happened at the Democratic Convention was the new plan that was agreed upon by Senator Sanders and Hillary Clinton.”
The new plan incorporates aspects of Sanders' higher education plan by making public universities tuition-free for students from families who make less than $125,000 per year.
He also dedicated much of his speech to outlining the various aspects of Hillary Clinton’s economic plan, including her focus on small businesses and manufacturing. He charged that Trump’s plan would serve to only benefit the rich.
“Her opponent wants to go back to trickle-down economics on steroids,” he said. “It’s the same old story with tax cuts for billionaires.”
For many attendees, the fact that Clinton had visited the city was the most important aspect of his speech. On the Republican side, some attention has also been paid to Flint. Trump visited the city in September; however, he encountered a colder reception. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also spoke at the Republican National Convention in July where he stated his goal of obtaining justice for Flint.
The Flint water crisis has been an issue that Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said to be of high importance to her. She first highlighted the issue during a Democratic debate in January, followed by visits from her, her daughter and President Barack Obama. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also received a speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention in July.
UM-Flint freshman Abbey Johnson said she believes Bill Clinton’s visit is significant because it demonstrates that the Clintons care about issues facing everyday Americans.
“I think it’s really important that he came here,” she said. “With the Flint water crisis, it shows not only the Democrats but everyone that he really cares and that Hillary cares what is happening all over the country, especially in Flint.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D–Flint) said Hillary Clinton helped Flint gain the national attention it needed to help resolve the crisis.
“During the middle of the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton left New Hampshire, put politics aside and came to the aid of the people of Flint,” he said. “She elevated this case, our story, to the national prominence that it deserved.”
Kildee also pointed to the Water Resources Development Act passed in the House last Wednesday, which is an amendment providing $170 million in federal funding for Flint.
During Weaver’s introduction of Bill Clinton, she said Flint is privileged to have remained in the purview of a former president.
“How excited can Flint be to have never, ever been forgotten by this two-term elected Democratic president,” she said.
Though Michigan has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, both parties have expressed the importance of the Michigan as a battleground state in this election. The most recent RealClearPolitics polling average has Clinton 5.3 points ahead of Trump in the state, one of her lower polling numbers in Michigan since March.
In acknowledgement of that, Bill Clinton closed with a request for the audience to register voters and encourage people to vote for Hillary Clinton as the Oct. 11 voter registration deadline approaches.
“You’ve got a week and a day to register new voters,” he said. “You’ve got to go and talk to your friends and neighbors.”