Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, locked in a heated battle with Bernie Sanders for California delegates, hit Fresno on Saturday evening in a closing campaign blitz ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary.
Speaking in Edison High School’s gymnasium, Clinton drew a crowd of 1,500, which filled the space. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, drew 7,000 to Selland Arena in his Fresno visit May 27. Sanders drew more than 5,000 to his May 29 rally at Fresno Fairground and also had a big crowd earlier the same day for a stop in Visalia.
Many supporters waited several hours before the doors to the gym were opened, seeking shade in the school’s halls on a day that temperatures reached 105 degrees.
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Clinton never mentioned Sanders, but aimed barbs at Trump.
As she began doing this past week, she stressed that Trump does not have the right temperament to be president, using comments he has made criticizing American allies, supporting leaders like Kim Jong Un of North Korea and advocating killing family members of terrorists.
Clinton also promised that she would not deport more than 1 million field workers in California, something Trump has said he would do.
The prospect of a Trump presidency, Clinton said, represents “one of the biggest threats to our liberty.”
Clinton opened her remarks by saying she and her husband, Bill, enjoy coming to Fresno. The former president visited May 23 to campaign for her.
Hillary Clinton sounded some themes common to Democratic candidates: equal pay for women, early childhood education, clean energy, abortion rights, support of education and marriage equality.
But she also tailored some remarks to her Fresno audience.
On water: “If I am fortunate enough to be your president, we are going to work on water and we are going to get this fixed.”
On immigration: “I will work for the rights of all people who have an immigrant pass to have an American citizenship. I will work for comprehensive immigration reform from the first day I am in the White House.”
Clinton’s speech began a two-minute ovation and then a moment of silence for Muhammad Ali, who passed away Friday night.
She was introduced by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Judge Armando Rodriguez, a graduate of Edison High.
Stephanie Garrigus stood in intense heat Saturday with her mother, husband, 8-year-old daughter and mother-in-law at Edison High School, waiting for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign rally.
Only two weeks earlier, Garrigus was watching as former President Bill Clinton campaigned at Fresno State for his wife, and she was excited this week to learn that Hillary Clinton was coming to Fresno.
Garrigus, 45, says she’s confident that Hillary Clinton will be elected.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the first woman president speak before she becomes president,” she said.
Garrigus was among more than thousand people who endured brutally high temperatures Saturday to attend the rally, one of many events that Clinton, the frontrunner Democratic candidate, has scheduled for the last weekend prior to Tuesday’s primary. Only 15 minutes after the doors opened, the Edison High gym was already at half capacity.
Wanting to make sure they would get good spots for Hillary Clinton’s campaign rally at Edison High School in southeast Fresno, hundreds of people lined up at the southwest Fresno high school hours prior to Saturday evening’s rally.
As the afternoon progressed, streets around the high school grew more crowded and curbside parking spaces were at a premium.
Most seemed to be on Clinton’s side, although there was at least one Donald J. Trump supporter on hand, driving a red pickup with “Make America Great” written on the side. But thus far, there have been none of the violent scuffles that occurred before and after Trump’s May 25 rally at Selland Arena.
Jennifer Ramirez, 14, was among the first 100 or so people to enter with her mom Laura Ramirez. Though she can’t vote, Jennifer convinced her mom to attend the Clinton rally. She wore pins that read, “Madam President” and “Suffragettes for Hillary” on her chest.
“I think we should have a woman as our president,” she said. “It can’t be Trump.”
About 6:35 p.m., Hillary Clinton’s airplane landed at Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Her motorcade wrapped around her plane as occupants began exiting shortly after the plane came to a stop.
After several minutes, Clinton entered a green SUV. A small crowd cheered for her, calling her by name, as her motorcade exited the airport. Clinton waved and smiled as she made her way to Edison High.
A program of events kept the rallygoers occupied prior to Clinton’s speech, with most speakers making the same point – make sure to vote in Tuesday’s primary. The first to speak was Amanda Renteria, a Woodlake native who is Clinton’s national political director, and she was followed by Teocalli, a Mexican folkloric music group playing music from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines was the next to speak.
“We’ve gotta vote. If you don’t vote, it doesn’t matter,” he told the crowd.
Baines was followed by fellow Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, who said the U.S. was built on the backs of immigrants like her parents, who “came to this country with nothing but hope.”
Democratic Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, recalling Renteria’s unsuccessful run for Congress, said that although the region “failed” Renteria but it can’t fail Clinton.
After her 23-minute speech, Clinton returned to her motorcade, which reached Fresno Yosemite International Airport at 8:30 p.m. Clinton shook hand with several California Highway Patrol officers who escorted her. Her jet took off at 8:54 p.m.
The Clinton campaign said an hour before the candidate was due to speak that the air-conditioned gym was nearing its 1,500-person capacity, but about 30 people who could not enter could listen from outside. However, it was not much cooler in the gym, which apparently not designed to keep 1,300 people cool.
Clare Wall sat against the railing of the media area after fainting due to the hot conditions. Wall was OK, she said. She just didn’t drink enough water. Three police officers and four paramedics rushed to her side as she fell around 6:30 p.m.
“I’ve been watching her career for 25 years,” Wall said of Clinton. “I’m like her – we’ve both been through the (mud) and made it out the other side.”
She added: “She’s always worked for women. I really want to see her – as long as I don’t faint again.”
Tate Hill, president and CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce was among the 50 or so people who didn’t get in.
Hill said he plans to vote for Clinton and was disappointed he couldn’t hear her speak. He heard Bill Clinton speak in Fresno two weeks ago.
Hill, who graduated from Edison High, said he appreciated that Clinton chose to speak at his alma mater. He hopes that, if elected, she remembers Fresno and Edison fondly.
“I think some other candidates would have said, ‘I don’t want to go there,’ “ he said, though Edison is one of the best high schools in the Valley.
But Hill said it’s significant that Clinton chose not to be afraid of addressing a challenged community, albeit one where Fresno’s history is rooted. “She could have picked a whole lot of other places.”
He said it shows him that Clinton is committed to addressing poverty and values diversity and education.
Jesse Hernandez, 53, a volunteer with the Clinton campaign, revved up the crowd as they waited in line in the sweltering heat.
Hernandez has been a Clinton fan for years. “I came today just hoping to get a glimpse of Hillary,” he said.
Hernandez said he was a Republican years ago but liked Bill Clinton as president. He said the world needs compassion, and Hillary is the most qualified to be president.
“Her resume is phenomenal,” he said. “I love Bernie, but I think we gotta stick to reality. Hillary is center – not too far left, not too far right.”
Hernandez said he brought his kids up to be interested in politics. His daughter, son and son-in-law were with him at the rally. His other daughter wasn’t – she’s a Sanders supporter.
While standing in line outside, Laura Yrigollen waved a black and silver sign that read “Hillary” on one side and “Unites/Unidos” on the other. After a security guard told her she couldn’t take the sign inside, it was tossed into a growing pile on the ground near the entrance.
“She unites all people, regardless of color, gender,” she said.
Yrigollen voted for Clinton in 2008 and has already voted for her in Tuesday’s primary. She said she believes what Clinton stands for, including that she doesn’t lie – a reference to the scandal that erupted after Trump said he had donated $1 million to veterans.
John Miller, 42, of Clovis, arrived at 12:30 p.m. Miller said he’s using ice packs and water and staying in the shade to stay somewhat cool in the triple-digit heat. “I’ve listened to Hillary on TV but I want to actually physically see her, listen to her policies,” he said.
First in line was Dolores Torres, 63 of Fresno, who showed up at 8 a.m. “I thought people were going to be camping but they weren’t. Now they’re starting to trickle in,” she said. A campaign worker brought an ice chest of water to the early birds in line.
Petra Rocha, 58, was wearing her Hillary 2008 pin and said she’s been a fan since Clinton was first lady. She said she has already admired Clinton for wanting to help people, and for how she withstood 11 hours of a committee meeting without flinching.
“Who could do that and not get angry? She could stand her ground. I’ve never met someone like that.”
She appreciated Clinton’s speech Friday calling out Trump: “He doesn’t really know anything about foreign policy.”
Vendors have been out selling Hillary Clinton buttons and T-shirts since 2 p.m. at Edison High School.
“Hillary’s tenacious,” said Nicki Hall, a PoliticalShop.com merchandise seller from Kansas City, Missouri. “She’s indestructible, you could say.”
Hall has been following the Clinton campaign since her rallies in the Midwest, and said she learns something new on the trail every day from the other supporters she meets.
“I feel like she has the determination to keep going in the face of opposition,” Hall said.
Roshelle Lee, president of the Edison Tiger Sports Foundation, braved the 104-degree heat selling Hillary Clinton T-shirts at $15 each to raise money for the high school football program.
“This is really knocking out two birds with one stone,” Lee said. “We need new uniforms, and we only get $7,500 a year for the whole sports program.”
In only 45 minutes, Lee said she’d sold about 50 of the 150 shirts she ordered. Her goal is to sell out and call her printer for more T-shirts.
“We do whatever we can to help the program,” she said.
Dorie Sexton, 45, came with two of her three sons. All three were taking advantage of the shade and eating ice cream from a cart.
“We are diehard Hillary supporters. We want someone who knows what in the heck they’re doing, someone who is respectable. And, having the first woman being president is a bonus,” Sexton said.
Her 14-year-old son, Michael, came to show Clinton support and appease his mom. It’s his first rally.
But while standing in the long line, he mostly was focused on the heat, he said between bites of a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich.
The doors opened to some in line around 4:30 p.m., and the remainder started entering at 5 p.m.
An ambulance is on standby, and crowds are trying to stay in the shade.
Clinton is the fourth campaigner to visit Fresno in the past two weeks. Bill Clinton campaigned for her at Fresno High on May 23, followed by Trump on May 27 at Selland Arena and her Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, on May 29 at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
Bee reporters John Ellis, Rory Appleton, Andrea Castillo, Crescencio Rodriguez-Delgado and JoAnna Kroeker contributed to this story.