PHILADELPHIA — Amid a shaky political climate—underscored by the apprehension of an accused bomber in New Jersey this morning—Hillary Clinton presented herself as a steady and even personable option to a group of students at Temple University in Philadelphia, hoping to inspire the same excitement as her former rival Bernie Sanders, just 50 days out from the election.
And, in a tacit acknowledgement that her earlier approach was not entirely working, she tried something new: being positive.
In fact, a big part of the 30-minute address billed unambiguously as “Millennial” outreach, was devoted to telling her story, pulling away from the campaign’s summer strategy of just assailing Donald Trump at every given opportunity.
“Now, I know that with so much negativity out there, it is really easy to get cynical—especially about our politics,” Clinton said at one point, seeming to acknowledge that she is the second-least-liked candidate of all time (Trump wins the honor of first). “I remember wrestling with that challenge when I was a student during the Vietnam War. It can be tempting to think that no one will tell you the truth and nothing’s ever going to change. But you’re here today because you refuse to accept cynicism.”
It was this kind of reflection, combined with hat-tips to Sanders and an emphasis on her personal experience that seemed to garner some earnest support from the few hundred students in attendance.
“I’m going to close my campaign the way I started my career: fighting for kids and young families,” Clinton said to the attendees at Temple’s Mitten Hall. She urged that students give all the candidates a “fair hearing” before deciding who they should choose and perhaps in a moment of commiseration said that the current election can be “downright depressing sometimes.”
Rehashing a political career of activism, (beginning with a job at the Children’s Defense Fund) Clinton’s speech served as a kind of introduction to some of the college students in attendance who were born during the latter half of her husband’s administration.
Still, she did her best to relate, much like Sanders, to the struggles that these students face.
“As you know better than most, tuition is going through the roof. And debt is piling up.” Clinton said to big cheers as she discussed a college plan inspired by Sanders in which public colleges would be free for the children of families making less than $125,000 a year.
The Clinton campaign is making no secret that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, another progressive Democratic darling, are integral to their strategy of wooing away a younger generation of voters who are wary of the former secretary of State. Some of the students in the crowd admittedly said they first backed Sanders in the Democratic primary but emerged with a clearer picture of Clinton.
Over the weekend in various appearances throughout Ohio, Sanders urged his supporters not to support the third-party options available in this election as Clinton has seen her numbers among young voters get peeled away by Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party.
“This is not the time for a protest vote, in terms of a presidential campaign,” Sanders told The Washington Post. “I ran as a third-party candidate. I’m the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. I know more about third-party politics than anyone else in the Congress, OK?”
This new urgency reflects a trend in recent surveys where Clinton garnered below 40 percent among millennials, a far cry from the 60 percent President Obama earned in 2012. She’s still besting Trump in this cohort but not by enough to swing what is shaping up to be a close election, one in which many people are voting against someone rather than for them.
And the issue isn’t defections to the Republican candidate but rather a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton as an option and third-party candidates gaining solid ground, perhaps partially fueled by a dearth of information about her plans and overall identity.
“Even if you are totally opposed to Donald Trump, you may still have some questions about me. I get that,” Clinton said acknowledging the trend.
For some in attendance, simply hearing her in person started to make the difference.
“My main reason for coming here was to become more informed because I feel like I don’t really know a whole lot about her,” Audrey Bristol-Evans, a linguistic major at Temple University, told The Daily Beast. She previously voted for Sanders in the primary but said that she’d be backing Clinton now.
“I looked up some of their policies and there are some things I like about them,” Bristol-Evans said of Johnson and Stein. “But overall, the fact that [Clinton] is the Democratic nominee, and also her general policies, is a much better option for America."
Bristol-Evans, like Mike McDermott, a 20-year-old economics and Spanish double major, seemed to feel confident about Clinton after hearing actual policies.
“I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary,” McDermott said. “I jumped right to Hillary when she got the nomination.” And hearing her proposals in person was important for him to put in perspective against what he characterized as Trump’s “incoherent solutions.”
“I think Hillary’s really knowledgeable and that’s going to give her a huge, huge edge when she actually goes against Trump head to head.”
The wonky, policy-oriented Clinton, who admits that she’s not great at campaigning, actually came off as appealing to some voters in attendance who prioritized their choice based on specific issues rather than media narratives and rhetoric.
Bobby Guerrieri, a freshman at Temple, who previously supported Sanders, said that Clinton represented herself as the most qualified individual in the race and the stakes are too high to look for other options.
“Electing more progressive third-party candidates down-ballot absolutely,” Guerrieri said, echoing a line from Sanders. “But not as president.”
Ephraim Burgess, a 23-year-old information technology major at Lincoln University said that the visit helped him solidify his decision in the election.
“Before this event, I had an idea that she was the better candidate,” Burgess said. “After today, getting to see her character face to face, getting a great handshake, looking into her eyes and feeling the warmth of her heart, I definitely feel that she is the best candidate.”
He only had one piece of advice for Clinton’s continued outreach.
“Come to Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, 1570 Baltimore Pike, Oxford County, PA,” Burgess said. “That’s what I would tell her to do.”