BRENTWOOD, New Hampshire — "New Hampshire: Live Free or Die" was the sign that greeted us as we arrived here in the state early Saturday afternoon for the upcoming primary.
As soon as we arrived, it was clear that this chapter in the 2008 presidential race was already well underway. Lining the side of the road all the way into the city were what must have been hundreds of campaign posters planted in the snow, proudly bearing candidates’ names — and from what I saw, most of them were Barack Obama (who, of course, won the Iowa Democratic caucus last week) and Hillary Clinton.
After checking into our hotel, which was already abuzz with campaign supporters, we headed to an old industrial warehouse a few miles away, where one of the most iconic leaders of our generation was giving a speech: the one and only Bill Clinton.
Standing in front of a giant banner that read "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead," the former president emerged, dressed in a slick grey suit, to speak to an intimate audience of about 200 people. That's a beauty of this process: Despite being an incredibly important chapter in the race, it still allows candidates and their supporters to meet voters on a personal level.
The audience consisted mostly of 40-somethings — I have to admit, I only saw a handful of young people and not one person of color. Regardless, the crowd lit up when Clinton took the stage and the applause was deafening for only a 200-strong crowd. I'd never had the opportunity to see him speak in person before. From watching him on TV and from what I'd heard, I knew that the former president is a very charismatic, passionate and seasoned public speaker, and seeing him in action only confirmed this. I certainly wasn't the only one who thought that — it was pretty clear from the start this crowd loves Bill Clinton!
The former president spoke for almost an hour, effortlessly dropping a mixture of knowledge, hard facts, statistics and occasional jokes that at times had the audience reeling with laughter. "President Bush has set out to undo everything [the Clinton] administration achieved," he said at one point. "And he did just that!"
Even when reminiscing about how being president was the best job in the world, he joked, "They play music every time you walk in the room ... they even made a movie about my plane!"
It wasn't all jokes, though. Clinton went on to talk about America's behavior on the world stage in recent years. "It's been our way or the highway, as long as we can get away with it, for the last eight years. It's time for change. ... We have become the only country in the world exempt from criminal court for war crimes. It's time for change. We must re-establish America's standing in the world as a leader of peace. More than half the world is mad at us at the moment. When we go off track, we gather ourselves up and start again. That is what we must do now."
Of course, he went on to tackle the topic of Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton. "I don't have to be against anyone," he said. "But you do have to be for someone. Make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States!"
He emphasized his belief in his wife as the best presidential candidate. He said she is "strong enough, smart enough and passionate enough, and will never forget who she is — and will always remember the people." And in a clear reference to the current administration's international policies, he said, "With her, it will be diplomacy with friend or foe first, and only military action as a last resort. Not the other way around."
After closing with a statement directed at the youth vote that stressed the importance of choosing a president with the correct ideas about education, health care and the environment, the former president finished his speech to a standing ovation.
We couldn't let this opportunity pass without a little one-on-one time, could we? After a quick chat with his press secretary, we were the only crew granted a one-on-one interview with Bill Clinton. After taking questions from the floor and signing copies of his book, he strolled down the corridor backstage to meet us, accompanied by a small army of Secret Service personnel — the man rolls deep!
A few moments before Bill arrived for our last-minute shoot, one of his Secret Service officers walked into the corner of the room where we had set up the camera and began to perform a sweep of the room. After looking thoroughly through everything, all was good — apart from a set of kitchen knives lying on the nearby kitchen table, which he picked up and hid in a nearby cupboard. As he left to get President Clinton, he gave the all-clear into his sleeve and quickly shot us a glance with the order, "Don't touch the knives." I think he was joking, but I wasn't about to find out!
Clinton personally greeted everyone in the crew — and then came my turn. With the cameras rolling, the former president spoke on a variety of topics, including the importance of the youth vote, what Hillary will be doing to capture that vote here in New Hampshire, why he's glad to be sitting out this election and much more.
An exclusive interview with Bill Clinton on our first day in New Hampshire — not a bad start!