LAREDO — Texans delivered rapturous welcomes to former President Bill Clinton on Monday as he campaigned for his wife in Dallas and the border city of Laredo. The swing, preceded by a Hillary Clinton rally Saturday night in Houston, comes as Texans head to the polls for the second week of early voting.
“My case for her is very simple: Her economic plans are more likely to create jobs and raise incomes higher in an inclusive way that leaves nobody behind,” Bill Clinton told about 1,200 supporters at a midday rally in Laredo. “Her social plans are more likely to bring us together so we can move together, instead of be afraid of one another.”
In both cities, he promoted his wife’s economic and immigration policies and her plan to reduce student debt.
The former president's Laredo visit played into the campaign’s pronounced outreach to Texas minority communities in recent weeks. While Bill Clinton spoke, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was touting Hillary Clinton’s immigration reform efforts in San Antonio, and several Latino legislators campaigned for her at the Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin.
“Not all the differences in our country are economic,” Clinton said in Laredo, which is 95 percent Hispanic according to the 2010 census. Hillary Clinton has sought to draw focus to her views on racial inequality, hoping to differentiate herself from opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who often addresses racism through the lens of economic inequality.
In Dallas, Bill Clinton delivered remarks at a rally on the campus of Paul Quinn College to a majority black crowd. An old friend from his days working as a presidential campaign staffer in 1972, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, introduced him.
She repeatedly joked about watching the two Clintons as young Democratic operatives flirting during the 1972 campaign. But she was also loaded for bear and aiming at Sanders.
"I know Sen. Sanders. I served with Bernie Sanders. I served with him in the House," she said. "He's a nice guy. I wish he'd been a Democrat all that time."
"He [joined] the party when he started to run for president," she added. "He's okay. But he does not have the history Hillary has. "
Clinton aides have long maintained that the race would play to her strengths once it moved to states with a more diverse Democratic base.
The former president also directed several jabs at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in Laredo, saying he disagrees with “the candidate who said we need to make America great again,” saying rather “we need to make America whole again so we can all be a part of the future.”
“We don’t need somebody who will build walls,” Clinton added, eliciting boos from the crowd at every mention of walls. “We need somebody who will tear down barriers and build ladders to opportunity.”
Arguing that mass deportation would collapse the economy and threaten relations with Latin American countries, Clinton also said “we need to stop talking about sending 11 million immigrants home.”
Clinton’s appearance marked the first visit from a current or former president at Texas A&M International since it was established in 1969, according to student body President Joshua Llamas. Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell made a similar statement about the Dallas-based, historically black college.
Yvonne Prince, a public health worker attending the Dallas event, hoped Clinton's visit would spur turnout for the March 1 primary.
"With him being a former president, it might have brought more of an awareness to voting," Prince said. "If he hadn't have been here, then people might not think about voting," she said.
While introducing Clinton, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, noted that Webb County was the first to endorse the former president when he first ran in 1992. Cuellar is a longtime backer of the Clintons and served as the Texas co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
“The last time President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were here in 2008, Webb County came out strong for Hillary,” Cuellar said moments before Clinton took the stage, noting that Clinton received over 70 percent of the vote in the county. “Can we do it again?"
While students said they were excited to see the former president, many remained noncommittal about their choice for the Democratic nominee as early voting continues. Daniel Ross-Rodriguez, 20, who was born and raised in Laredo, said he is still undecided but that Clinton’s visit and history in the state had a positive impact on him.
“He’s come to Laredo and was running up and down the streets back when they were still made of dirt,” said Ross-Rodriguez, who added that he is the first member of his family both to attend college and to see a president in person. “Most students here have fond memories of the Clinton presidency. For him to come to a small town like this, it’s a historic moment us.”
While Ross-Rodriguez said Sanders has a fair amount of support on campus, he said students would unify behind Clinton “if he loses traction.” While he said others might be concerned about “her flip-flopping and emails,” he said the former president’s speech will help Sanders supporters on campus realize “she’s not that bad.”
Luz Mota, 21, is also undecided, but she said Clinton’s stories from the times he passed through her hometown of Eagle Pass impressed her.
“It definitely shows the Clintons are more connected to the people around the border and in Texas, it shows that they care about us,” Mota said. "It's little things like this that really matter the most for us."
At a Latinos for Hillary organizing event in Austin on Saturday, state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said Hillary Clinton has an edge with the minority community in Texas because of her history.
“She has an upbringing that gives her respect for grassroots minority activism and she hasn’t lost that,” Israel said. “There’s a personal connection that the minority community wants to feel with you. They will be there for you, but you’ve got to ask.”
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who is originally from McAllen, described south Texas as "Hillary country."
"A lot of people really like the Clintons down there and in San Antonio," Rodriguez said. "For her to really do well in Texas, she has to get as much of the Hispanic vote as possible."