Hillary Clinton visits Colorado, but dodges the state’s big issues

Hillary Clinton came to Colorado Tuesday looking for another opportunity to close the enthusiasm gap between her and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Her speech in Denver touched on staple issues like education, raising the minimum wage, economics, gun control and terrorism, but she steered clear of subjects weighing on Colorado: legalized marijuana, fossil fuels and water.

Tuesday was Clinton’s second appearance in the state since announcing in April she would seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. She was last here in August.

This time, Clinton was looking for grassroots Democrats who would support her in Colorado’s March 1 caucus against Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Her trip to Colorado began with a visit to Boulder and a rally at the Boulder Theater, where she said she would continue to defend the Affordable Care Act. She also expressed support for Colorado’s universal healthcare ballot initiative, according to a news release from ColoradoCare Yes, which backs the ballot measure.

Following the Boulder appearance, Clinton came to Denver, where a crowd of more than 600 greeted her at Manual High School.

Local and state politicians were surprisingly in short supply at the event.

Clinton was led onto the stage by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Also speaking to the crowd prior to Clinton’s appearance: state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster; former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former state Sen. Polly Baca, D-Denver.

Missing from the Denver rally: Gov. John Hickenlooper and many members of his cabinet, although his chief strategist Alan Salazar was there. Denver Deputy Mayor and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy was in the VIP section of the event, as was former First Lady Dottie Lamm.

Clinton spoke for just under 30 minutes. Chief among her pleas: asking people to commit in writing to support her for the March 1 Colorado Democratic caucus, since the state will not have a presidential primary in 2016.

She advocated for stronger gun safety laws, referring to the mass shootings at Columbine High School, the Aurora theater, and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Clinton said she supports eliminating loopholes for background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows and online, and she also wants to remove the federal liability waiver that protects gun manufacturers from being sued.

She pointed out that nationwide, 92 percent of Americans support these measures, including 83 percent of gun owners.

Those numbers do not reflect the attitudes of Coloradans, where a July poll from Quinnipiac University found that 56 percent oppose stronger gun control laws.

Clinton took special umbrage with Congressional Republicans who refuse to sign onto a bill that would prohibit people on the so-called “no-fly list” from buying firearms.

She also outlined her plans to take on Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. “We need to fight them in the air, on the ground and online,” and the United States  can do that by drawing together a coalition of countries and working with Muslim communities, she said.

As to the current Syrian refugee situation, Clinton pointed out that the hijackers on 9/11 weren’t refugees. They were terrorists who entered the country legally. She did call for a “clear and careful vetting process” for refugees entering the country.

The audience was split about 60/40 women to men. Several women said prior to the rally that they were looking for comments on how Clinton would address wage inequality and restore the middle class.

Gloria Holbert of Denver said she hoped Clinton would discuss how she would help college students avoid student debt, a topic that Clinton did touch on in her remarks.

But not everyone there was ready to jump on the Clinton bandwagon.

Several said they were on the fence between Clinton and Sanders, and that Tuesday’s appearance would help them decide.

Teacher Eva Bridgeforth said she hoped Clinton would stand up against politics as usual, help the middle class and improve education.

Fellow teacher Melissa Settelke said she thinks Clinton will be an advocate for all kids, but also said she’s still deciding between Sanders and Clinton. Settle hoped Clinton would advocate for better funding for public education, noting that Colorado ranks near the bottom nationwide in per-student spending.

“I’m gung-ho Clinton but not sure where I stand on Hillary,” said Miriam Koker. What would get her on board? Put Sanders on the ticket.