Clinton headlines Democratic fundraiser in Canton

Published 12:54 am Friday, March 7, 2008

CANTON (AP) — Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton told a fundraiser crowd on Thursday that if elected she’ll focus on issues that would help Mississippi, including health care for children and Hurricane Katrina recovery.

She said the state should elect “a president who understands that Mississippi is poised to once again be a national leader … if you have a partner who’s going to work to make that happen.”

A crowd of about 2,000 gathered for the $125-a-plate at the annual Jefferson Jackson Hamer Day Dinner sponsored by the Mississippi Democratic Party. Her Democratic rival for the party nomination, Barack Obama, also was invited, but didn’t attend.

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Clinton said if she becomes president she would sign the bill reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program that’s been vetoed by Bush. She also said there would be frequent reports on the progress made in recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast region that was battered by the storm in 2005.

“When Katrina struck the Gulf Coast the president didn’t respond. Still, to this day, we do not yet have the level of response in urgency to that natural disaster,” she said.

Among those in attendance were numerous state lawmakers, Attorney General Jim Hood, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and former Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.

Clinton and Obama signs were posted around the Canton Multipurpose Center. While some people shouted Clinton’s name, a small group chanted “O-bam-a!”

“I’m a little concerned,” said Johnson, when asked about the divisive nature of the campaign. “We need to make sure whoever is in the losing camp comes on board.”

Johnson would not commit to either candidate.

“This is an exciting time,” he said. “Who would of thought the eyes of the nation would be on Mississippi.”

Johnson was one of hundreds of Democratic leaders who came out for Clinton’s fundraiser. They were served baked beans, potato salad and barbecue chicken on disposable plates with plastic forks and spoons.

Teresa Kopp, of Montgomery Ala., traveled in her recreational vehicle to the event. The country singer said she just wanted the opportunity to see Clinton

“We’ve got to get her in. She’s the best woman for the job,” said Kopp, who played her banjo for the crowd before security took it away from her. Day Dinner in Canton.

Terry Cassreino, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said no one thought Mississippi would have such a significant role in the race for the White House.

“It has worked to the advantage of the Democratic Party by getting people excited about our candidates. It’s brought more people into the fold to listen to what these candidates have to say,” Cassreino said.

Clinton also is scheduled to speak Friday morning at a breakfast and town hall meeting at a train depot in downtown Hattiesburg. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is scheduled to attend a fish fry Friday evening at the Tupelo Furniture Market.

The Obama campaign said he will be in Jackson and Columbus on Monday. No details were immediately released.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who secured the Republican nomination this week, has not announced any Mississippi campaign events before the primary.

Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton, who helped introduce Clinton, said “no longer will anybody take the state of Mississippi for granted on the national political level,” adding that “no matter how we cast our vote, we can’t go wrong.”

Cassreino said both Democratic candidates carry a message of change and reform, from the nation’s health care system to improving public education to ending the war in Iraq.

They’re also chasing delegates, and Mississippi has 40 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, 33 of whom will be awarded proportionally during the primary. Seven are “superdelegates” who can decide which presidential candidate to support.

Usually, the party nominee is clear by the time Mississippi holds its primary, but not this year. After this week’s primaries in three states, Obama had 1,567 delegates after picking up five new superdelegate endorsements Wednesday. Clinton had 1,462. It takes 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination.

Mississippi has a 37 percent black population, and Obama is expected draw a large portion of that vote. During a conference call with reporters Thursday, Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign, said Clinton received significant support from black voters and black members of Congress in Texas and Ohio.

“We are working closely in the African-American community,” Lewis said. “We will continue to work for and hope for the votes of everyone.”