The Day Hillary Clinton Got Really, Really, Really Mad In Cincinnati
Most of the American people have never seen Hillary Clinton lose her temper or blow her cool, reasoned demeanor in public.
Not even when she would have been entirely justified in doing so, after being provoked again and again two years ago.
If you can stay cool when someone is repeatedly referring to you as "Crooked Hillary" and leading large crowds in chants of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" then you're about as unflappable a candidate as there could possibly be.
I've been around her quite a few times over the years – as a presidential contender's wife; as first lady; as Secretary of State and as a U.S. Senator from New York.
But there was only one time I saw her become truly angry, and it was a sight to behold.
It was on Feb. 24, 2008, a chilly Saturday morning, in the gymnasium at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
She didn't scream; she didn't shout; she didn't risk chucking her dignity out the window; but – with real anger in her voice and in her eyes – she coolly sliced and diced her then-opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama – later her boss as President Obama.
It came only three days before an Obama-Clinton debate in Cleveland that would be the last before the March 4 Ohio primary. Oddly enough, Clinton delivered her message pummeling Obama after most of the 1,500 supporters who had shown up at Cincinnati State to cheer her on had left the building. She did it for an audience of a handful of print and broadcast reporters and a battery of TV cameras.
Allow me to explain.
Before the event began and as the gym was filing up, I climbed on to the press riser with the videographers and still photographers, where I could survey the size of the crowd and make note of which notable local Democrats were there and which were not. There was, at the time, considerable division in the local party between the Clinton and Obama supporters.
Clinton arrived through a side door and, as she made her way backstage, she stopped to shake hands and sign autographs for dozens of her supporters. At one point, I noticed a short, white-haired woman in eyeglasses clutching two sheets of paper and pushing her way through the crowd toward Clinton.
I nudged our Enquirer photographer. You may want to keep an eye on this one.
He started firing off photos of her as she made her way through the crowd. When she reached Clinton, the candidate greeted her warmly and the woman passed to Clinton the two sheets of paper – which I could tell were pieces of campaign literature of some kind. Clinton began reading them, with a furrowed brow and took them with her as she made her way backstage.
After an introduction from Ted Strickland, the then-governor of Ohio, Clinton came out on stage to a tumultuous reception.
She spoke for nearly 40 minutes – a strong, upbeat speech about her vision for the country. She also took more than a few shots at the record of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
She wrapped up her campaign speech with a boisterous response from a happy audience, who were, as Barack Obama was wont to say in those days, fired up and ready to go.
Clinton campaign staffers were in the wings, smiling at each other and slapping a few high-fives as they chalked up what they were sure was another successful campaign rally.
The candidate stayed around a while, working the rope line as she posed for photos, signed autographs, shook hands and hugged more than a few of her Cincinnati supporters.
Then, once again, she disappeared backstage. The crowd began to break up and slowly head for the parking garages on campus; the TV people on the riser were knocking down their equipment, and a handful of print reporters (including me) were sitting at press tables, pounding away on our laptops.
Then a Clinton press aide came out and got the attention of the remaining media.
Excuse me, but could you stay around a bit? Senator Clinton has something she wants to say to you.
So, yes, those of us left stayed around. The fact that Clinton was voluntarily stopping what she was doing to talk to the media was a once-in-a-blue-moon event.
Aides hurriedly set up a backdrop full of Clinton campaign logos. Soon, the candidate herself came out and stood in front of the media, which had gathered around her in a semi-circle. Strickland was at her side, and positioned himself to be directly behind her in the TV shots.
The first thing I noticed was that she was clutching the two pieces of campaign literature the mystery woman in the audience had passed on to her.
They were, in fact, mailers sent out to Ohio Democratic voters by the Obama campaign – one criticizing Clinton's universal health care plan and the other claiming Clinton had called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a "boon" for the economy.
What came next was four minutes of Clinton blistering Obama. You can watch it all here.
These are some of the highlights:
- "Today in the crowd I was given two mailings that Sen. Obama's campaign is sending out. And I have to express my disappointment that he is continuing to send false and discredited mailings with information that is not true to the voters of Ohio."
- "He says one thing in speeches and then he turns around and does this. And we have consistently called him on it. It has been discredited; it is blatantly false and yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. That is not the 'new politics' that the speeches are about. It is not hopeful; it is destructive."
- "Just because Sen. Obama chose not to present a universal health care plan doesn't give him the right to attack me because I did. So, let's have a real campaign. Enough of the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook…..Shame on you, Barack Obama! It is time you ran a campaign that is consistent with your message in public. That's what I expect from you. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign."
Of course, she used that last line knowing full well the two of them would be debating on a stage in Cleveland in three days. Nothing like softening up the opposition before a big debate. That's Campaign Debating 101.
All the while she was blasting Obama, Strickland stood behind, constantly nodding his head in agreement like a bobblehead doll you'd get at the ballpark. C'mon down for the Reds-Brewers game at Great American Ball Park! First 20,000 through the gates get a Gov. Ted Strickland bobblehead!
Clinton took a few questions and then, with her entourage and traveling press trailing behind her, disappeared from the gym and into a campaign bus that would take her back to the airport.
Back at the Enquirer, one of the editors was making me crazy about who the mystery woman was who passed the mail pieces on to Clinton.
I was getting a little short-tempered and my answer was something along these lines: I don't know; I don't care; she looked vaguely familiar; I asked people around her and they didn't know and will you please quite bothering me so I can write this story?
So, the editor back at the Enquirer took a series of photos shot by our photographer of the woman approaching and passing the campaign lit to Clinton. He put them in a strip across the top of page A10, with one of the dumbest headlines in the history of American journalism: AT CINCINNATI.COM: CAN YOU ID WOMAN WHO BROUGHT MAILERS? SEARCH: CLINTON.
It reminded me of the old photos of the mysterious man with the open umbrella on a sunny day in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.
Of course, no one responded. Not to my knowledge, at least. Perhaps the identify of this woman is sealed in the National Archives and will not be released for 75 years.
Although I doubt it.
Bill Buxton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, delivered his response not long after Clinton's smackdown occurred.
"Everything in these mailers is completely accurate,'' Buxton said. "We look forward to having a debate this Tuesday on the facts, and the facts are that Sen. Clinton was a supporter of NAFTA."
Actually, the real response came two days later at Fifth Third Arena on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.
In February 2008, Obama was a rock star, a fresh and new face who spoke of hope and offered change. He had an enormous appeal not only to African-American voters, but to young people as well.
What better place to hold a rally than on the campus of a major university?
He packed the arena with 11,000 raucous, enthusiastic supporters – the majority of them college students, whom he implored to vote in the Ohio primary on March 4.
Clinton's 1,500 on Saturday filled the Cincinnati State gym, but looked puny compared to the jam-packed arena where Obama spoke.
And, in 21st century politics, optics are everything.
But, in the March 4 Ohio presidential primary, Clinton got the last laugh.
She took 53.5 percent of the vote to nearly 45 percent for Obama. And Clinton won 74 of Ohio's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, while Obama won 67.
And, to our knowledge, the mystery woman who clearly swung the Ohio primary election, has yet to be found.
My guess is she is living on the shores of Loch Ness these days, where she lives happy because she gets no campaign lit in her mail box.