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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chelsea Clinton Gets Conversational in S.D.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Despite the measly three electoral votes at stake in South Dakota, the Clintons have twice appeared to connect with Democrats in the state this election season.

The long line of potential voters, snaking through various hallways inside the campus building where Chelsea Clinton was set to speak on behalf of her mother's campaign Wednesday night, was incongruous with the relatively uncrowded parking lot outside.

This may be because about half of those gathered in and around the mid-size classroom hosting Chelsea were college students from Augustana University, the hosting venue, and other nearby schools.

While not running quite as late as her father during his visit to Sioux Falls, Chelsea still arrived onstage about half an hour behind schedule. When she took the microphone, she spoke in a conversational tone.

"Oh, thank you for the 'Vote for Chelsea's Mom,' sign," she began, noticing a homemade sign held by an audience member.

"I think this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime," she continued. "It's the first presidential election that I am voting in as a mom — and I didn't know I could care more about politics and running for political office until I became a parent and found, I could."

The audience chuckled when she added, "Because I grew up spending a lot of time at events like this." She talked about holding up signs at rallies, waving an American flag at events as a little girl, and volunteering at her dad's campaign office stuffing envelopes and making phone calls when he ran for governor in Arkansas.

"And yet, even if I weren't a parent, I would think this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime," she said. "Because I worry that everything I care most about is at risk ... I worry that our core values as a country are at risk."

She touched on Hillary's support for raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap between men and women and between the able-bodied and the disabled, and climate change.

Fitting the venue, she spent the most time touting her mother's plan for financing college, which includes making college tuition free for families who make less than $125,000 annually, counting years spent in public service as part of loan repayment, making community colleges tuition-free and locking in federal student loans at the lowest possible interest rates, "because the federal government should not be in the business of making a profit off of students."

"This is deeply personal to my mom, because she was able to go to law school only through a work-study program and because she got a lot of loans," Chelsea said. "And I remember the day she paid off those law-school loans when I was a little girl, and how proud she was."

Circling back to the subject of her children, she said it's "not just rhetorical" when she talks about what children are picking up from this election.

She told a story about a mother she met on the campaign trail who had immigrated from Guatemala with her son, who is now in school, when he was a baby. "In his middle school, in less than two weeks, he heard three kids say either, 'Go back to Mexico,' or 'I can't wait till we can build a wall to keep people like you out.'"

"I never thought that I would see in my lifetime the normalization of hate speech," she said. "Donald Trump and his campaign [are] fueling this."

She then opened the floor up for questions, comments, suggestions and "parenting advice."

Attendees raised the issues of human trafficking and drug addiction in South Dakota, which has a disproportionate effect on the Native American population; the difficulty of being part of the national discussion about race in a state with limited ethnic diversity; and the problem of homelessness among veterans.

But the most intense moment came when a female college student asked Chelsea about improving contraceptive access.

South Dakota is home to just one Planned Parenthood clinic, which charges for contraception and other services, according to the student.

"I'm pro-choice," the student said, "like everybody else should be—"

An audible gasp arose from the audience, along with some nervous laughter. The student, flustered, started to squeak, "I'm sorry—"

"No, don't apologize for your opinion," Chelsea said firmly. "That's something that women, particularly women and young girls, do too often."

Chelsea said this was the first time she had been asked about contraception this election cycle.

She pushed for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and the expansion of Medicaid, which could cover contraception for people on limited incomes. She added that many of the 9 percent who remain uninsured in the country live in states that have not accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

"I'm not naming any names," she said, referencing South Dakota's refusal to take the additional funds.

Chelsea ended her 45-minute appearance by encouraging attendees to register to vote, and to vote early.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary over Senator Bernie Sanders by just two percentage points this year. She also took the state in the 2008 primary against President Barack Obama.

But South Dakota has not gone to a Democratic candidate for president since 1964.

Forecasters from the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight.com estimate Clinton's likelihood of winning South Dakota at 3 to 8 percent.

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