(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Clinton swung by the Tampa Bay area Tuesday in support of his wife, Hillary Clinton, and promised a stronger, more unified country should she be elected as the next president of the United States.
The appearance of the nation’s 42nd president at the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center in St. Petersburg was his third stop of the day. Before that, the former president delivered his message to crowds in Immokalee and Florida City.
During his speech, Clinton touted the Democratic presidential candidate’s five-year $275 billion infrastructure plan and her advocacy of those with college debt.
“We need to get this country back to the future of business. How are we going to do that when we send these young millennials out into the world saddled with a college debt where the interest rate is more than twice as high as their parents’ home mortgage rate?” he asked, spurring a round of applause from the crowd.
Clinton went on to outline several aspects of his wife’s plan for education, which includes support for student parents and promises that by 2021 families with incomes up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state, four-year public colleges and universities.
His speech, at times heartwarming with personal anecdotes, brought some laughter and shouts of agreement from several in the crowd. It was also not without jabs at his wife’s opponent, Donald Trump. Clinton compared Hillary and the Republican presidential candidate often.
“When she says ‘We’re stronger together,’ she means all of you, and her opponent says ‘No we’re not’… and then she says ‘You know, I understand why so many of you are angry … but in the end, you can’t change your life with anger. We need answers,’” Clinton said. “Answers are better than anger.”
Among those who fired up the crowd before Clinton’s arrival were former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“This year we’re being asked to choose a president … to choose a president, which is an important question in and of itself,” Crist said. “We’re being asked a very fundamental question about ourselves. Are we stronger divided or by race, gender or wealth … or are we stronger together?”
Outside the center early Tuesday evening, a long line had formed with supporters eager to see Bill Clinton. Among them were Randy Nataraj-Allen, 59, and his husband, Shiva Nataraj-Allen, 53.
Randy listed several reasons why he supports Hillary Clinton.
“Her support for children’s education, her support for me as a gay man,” the teacher said. “Her support for families of all kinds, and the fact that she wants to … continue with our welcoming attitude to people of other races and creeds and religious backgrounds.”
He added that she wants to make this country “truly a melting pot.”
Shiva said it’s always exciting to see Bill Clinton.
“The idea that his wife — keeping my fingers crossed we’ll all vote — will end up being president within a week is really exciting,” he said. “It’s so exciting to be a part of this process.”