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Bill Clinton stumps for Hillary before hundreds in WNY

Former President Bill Clinton came to Depew on Tuesday to drum up support for his wife's own bid for the White House.

Speaking before a reported 850 people inside the Grapevine Banquets (former Hearthstone) facility in Depew, Mr. Clinton suggested that New York is critical for securing his wife's Democratic Party nomination.

Credit Eileen Elibol, WBFO
Former President Bill Clinton stumps for his wife, Hillary Clinton, during an appearance in Depew on Tuesday. Clinton made three appearances across the state Tuesday to promote his wife's presidential bid.

"Because if she wins the victory she has earned through her leadership and service here and your support, then it'll have a big impact on Pennsylvania, and the Atlantic coast primary states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland, and then we'll swing into the closing act in California and in New Jersey," Clinton said.

He spoke numerous times of a need for America to "all rise together." His speech touched on some of what Americans should expect if his wife is elected. He spoke about numerous topics, including a push to renew the nation's infrastructure. 

"If every small town in rural America and Native American reservations had access to affordable rapid broadband, tomorrow they would all immediately be in the national economy and they could change their own futures," he said.

Clinton's call for infrastructure change included the updating of badly aged utilities.

"Flint, Michigan is by no means the only city in this country where there are old, outmoded pipes putting our children's health at risk," Clinton said, triggering cheers in the room.

He also covered topics including clean energy - taking a dig at climate change doubters by suggesting his party "still believes in science" - as well as renewing manufacturing, easing student loan debt by allowing Americans to refinance them long-term, bringing more people into the workforce and providing equal pay.

He also criticized Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' formula for free college education. He said convincing states, especially ones Republican-led, to pay for one-third of the cost would be too difficult to achieve.

"Even in New York, which increased aid to its colleges this year, that would be hard to do," Clinton said.  He recommended an expansion of work-study to help students afford college while keeping costs down for states.

Clinton, when discussing his wife's contributions to Western New York as a U.S. Senator representing the Empire State, spoke of the federal funding she secured to plant the seeds of Buffalo's economic redevelopment, including the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"She wants to do the kinds of things in America that were done in Buffalo," he said. "When she worked so hard to get you all that money for things that may seem small, but if you did it in every city in America, it would make a huge difference."

He also spoke of her role in sparing the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station from closure by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. While it saved thousands of jobs, Mr. Clinton said Mrs. Clinton wasn't doing it just to protect an interest in her state. He told the audience it was also out of appreciation for its role in a strong national defense.

Credit Eileen Elibol, WBFO
Hillary Clinton supporters hold up signs during a stump speech by the presidential hopeful's husband, former president Bill Clinton, inside the Grapevine Banquets facility in Depew on Tuesday.

Recalling some of the global hotspots during his eight years in the White House, including Bosnia and Rwanda, he said today's situations, including Russian aggressions, threats by nations to leave the European Union and the rise of ISIS, are more serious. He suggested his wife is the most qualified to step into global affairs.

"It's important that she was Secretary of State, and that she understands that you've got to have a strong defense, strong diplomacy, and you can never stop trying to make a world with more friends and fewer enemies," Clinton said. "Which is why she keeps reminding people that we should oppose terror but we shouldn't oppose American Muslims who love this country and believe in freedom and believe in democracy."

That remark touched off loud cheers, through which Clinton added, "we need them."

Reaction to the speech by local political party leaders was warm.

"I thought it was a tremendous event," said Erie County Democratic Committee chairman Jeremy Zellner. "The president really spoke from his heart, really focused his attention on some of the things that then-Senator Clinton did for this community."

Former Democratic Party chairman and current Erie County Elections Commissioner Len Lenihan added: "It's just probably the most well-versed discussion of a presidential race. Just the information, the articulation of the issues, it was just unbelievable."

What was noticeable was the staging of younger supporters on risers in a corner of the large room. While some are forwarding the suggestion that younger voters are more likely drawn to Sanders, Hillary Clinton's supporters say she has plenty of young blood backing her campaign.

"I think this room is as diverse as you can get," Zellner said. "I think there's a ton of young people here. All throughout the country, I've traveled in support of Hillary. The people involved in her campaign, working on her campaign, are just as diverse and just as young." 

Erie County's Democratic Party leadership threw their support behind Clinton last year. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton leading primary rival Sanders by 12 points in New York.

"Western New York is Clinton Country," declared Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during one of the many speeches held before the former president's arrival in the building.

Mrs. Clinton herself is expected to appear in Buffalo on Friday. As of late Tuesday, information including the venue and start time were not yet announced by her campaign.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton giving a stump speech for his wife and Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at The Grapevine in Depew. WBFO's Michael Mroziak and Eileen Buckley provide a post-speech review.

As lines of supporters gathered, waiting for their chance to hear former President Bill Clinton speak, the WBFO News team provided on-site coverage from The Grapevine in Depew. Here are their live reports throughout the afternoon:

WBFO's Michael Mroziak and Eileen Buckley reporting live from inside The Grapevine at 2 p.m. as supporters cheer on local politicians ahead of the visit of former President Bill Clinton.
WBFO's Michael Mroziak and Eileen Buckley reporting live from inside The Grapevine at 1 p.m.

WBFO's Michael Mroziak reporting live from outside The Grapevine at noon as Clinton supporters and members of the media begin to gather, ahead of a visit by former President Bill Clinton.

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