If Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign had indeed lacked passion, it appeared to find some Tuesday in Charlotte.
And it didn’t hurt that Clinton brought a friend.
At 3:30 p.m., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and incumbent Barack Obama appeared on stage and body-hugged. Sustained roars went up from an overflow crowd in a room designed to hold 7,000. Hundreds who waited for the moment stopped clapping and aimed their cameras above their heads.
Clinton’s campaign has been criticized for its failure to draw a visceral response – at least compared with rival Bernie Sanders. But Tuesday, and with Obama’s help, she drew thousands to Charlotte for what many interpreted as a passing of a torch.
That the two Democratic leaders chose Charlotte to unveil their public campaign partnership was not lost on the audience – many of whom had traveled from across the state to be there.
“The first black president and the first female president on stage at the same time,” said Lee Helmer of Lake Lure. “Think of it.”
Jennifer Stanley, a leukemia patient, drove down from Winston-Salem. Felicia Willems and her 9-year-old son Ethan made the trip from Raleigh. “Obama,” Willems said, was the first word Ethan had learned by sight.
The history of the moment was not lost on Kathleen and Drake Tunson, two members of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church choir that warmed up the crowd. The two wouldn’t say who among Obama and Clinton was the bigger draw for them. But when they performed, their song list – “The Best is Yet to Come” and “Strong Finish” – seemed customized for both.
For more than three hours, the afternoon blended old-style county fair politics with its digital descendant. The warm-up acts included a long list of Democratic officeholders, from the Charlotte City Council to gubernatorial hopeful Roy Cooper, who either spoke or were recognized from the dais.
When someone wasn’t singing Clinton’s praises, Sheryl Crow was. Her “Woman in the White House” played on the hour.
Outside, the members of a Concord church protested and said they would pray for Obama and Clinton to repent. A small group of Republican volunteers also handed out cards. “Hillary Clinton, IT professional,” they read. “Specializing in Hiding Emails. Server Wiping. Legal Advice.”
Medics treated more than a dozen people for signs of heat exhaustion, including Helmer’s wife, Lynn Anglin. Toward the end of Obama’s speech, a Secret Service agent helped carry out a woman who had fainted. While hundreds of people were siphoned off to an overflow room to watch the proceedings, the logistics inside the main hall went smoothly – except for several audience members who needed bathroom breaks and found the most direct route blocked by the Secret Service.
The first big roar of the day came when several sections of people spotted U.S. Rep. Alma Adams’ hat as she took her seat near the dais. Adams did not disappoint.
“Let’s help Hillary turn this mother out!” Adams said, bringing those who were not already standing to their feet.
Stanley was one of them. A year ago, she was diagnosed with a virulent strain of leukemia and told by doctors that either the disease or the treatment needed to fight it would kill her. Now she was dancing in the ballroom to the piped-in music.
Eight years ago, she said she cried when Clinton lost to Obama and said in her concession speech that she had put a crack in the glass ceiling. “Now we’re going to shatter it,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Marc Daniels also has a dream. The Springville, Ill. man, who is Jewish, believes Trump’s campaign has brought hate into the forefront of American politics. He says he flew to Charlotte for Clinton’s speech solely on the basis of an image Trump sent out that critics say incorporated the Star of David. He hopes to draw 100,000 Americans of all colors and spiritual backgrounds to New York to remove weeds from Central Park. “Weeding out hate,” Daniels calls it, who says Clinton is “the natural born healer” the country needs.
When Clinton and Obama took the stage at around 3:30 p.m., the energy changed. Everybody from a mother with her two children to a French TV reporter trying to balance on a folding chair in high heels used the moment as a backdrop for selfies and live reports.
An hour later, as Obama said he was “ready to pass the baton” to Clinton, he lifted her hand aloft and said, “Let’s go.”
Outside a thunderstorm had roared in. Several audience members went dancing out into the rain.
Staff Writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.