HAZARD—For the second time in nearly as many decades, the 42nd President of the United States came back to Central Appalachia to visit Perry County—though this time he wasn’t promoting himself.
More than 1,000 people lined up outside of the Forum in Hazard for a chance to see former President Bill Clinton Wednesday afternoon, as he made two stops in Kentucky to endorse and campaign with U.S. Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes as part of the “Coal Country for Alison” tour. Grimes campaign officials said the line had started to form before 11 a.m. that day.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo was one of numerous speakers to take the stage before Grimes and Clinton. Former Governor Martha Layne Collins, Rep. Rocky Adkins, and Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), also helped amp the crowd up. The UMWA announced its endorsement of Grimes less than a week before the rally in Hazard, and brought two buses full of members to represent at the event.
“We need a United States Senator that gets up every day thinking about working class people … gets up every day thinking about the working folks of Kentucky,” Roberts said before introducing Grimes and Clinton to the stage.
Grimes was able to rile the already excited crowd up even more by hitting on key points that are crucial to Southeastern Kentucky, including diversifying industry in the region, senior benefits, early childhood education funding, and raising the minimum wage.
“That’s what we need in our United States Senator—someone who knows not only the struggles our state is facing but the people behind each of those struggles,” she said, receiving thunderous applause from the audience. “Together we can build a Kentucky that we’re proud of, not just for our generation, but for future generations.”
Grimes also spoke on recent attack ads from her opponent and incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell.
“I’m not an empty dress, I’m not a rubber stamp, and I am not a cheerleader! I am a Clinton Democrat,” she said. “We all know what being a Clinton Democrat is all about, it’s about going to Washington and fighting for the people that sent you there … it’s about remembering what President Clinton said in his campaign in 1992—it’s the economy, stupid!”
Clinton then took the stage to what would be the second loudest cheers of the night, the loudest coming with his closing words.
“I’m really honored to be here, you know, I love Kentucky,” he opened with.
Fifteen years ago, Clinton visited Hazard for the first time to promote a bipartisan initiative, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Program, as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000. Clinton explained that the program was the “last great economic initiative for rural and small town America.”
The former president went on to say that by 2012, because of the NMTC, there had been $31 billion in investments in areas where unemployment rates were higher than the national average and incomes were below the national average, 560,000 jobs had been created, and millions of dollars in other investments had been made related to the creation of those jobs.
“I’ll never forget that day in Hazard; I’ll never forget how hot it was. People were dropping like flies that day, you couldn’t breathe the air was so thick and hot,” Clinton remembered. “But there was a sense that America was on the move and that small towns and rural areas could be a part of that.”
Clinton repeatedly expressed his endorsement of Grimes’ Kentucky Jobs Action Plan, which he cited as the only reason anyone should need to vote for her.
“One candidate believes it’s about jobs and incomes, getting new jobs, getting good jobs, getting poor folks the chance to work their way to the middle class, giving the middle class the chance to give their kids a decent life,” Clinton said. “Every page in it is about you. Not about politicians, it’s not about the politics—it’s about you.”
Clinton had one final request for the crowd before he left the stage.
“Before you leave you pick out one child and look at them close, and then I want you—between now and election day—every time you see a political ad, ask yourself deep in your heart, if I do what they’re saying will it give these children a better future,” he said.
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.