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Killeen greets Bill Clinton

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Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 12:00 pm

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

From the bed of a black pickup truck, former President Bill Clinton spoke to a crowd of several hundred outside the Killeen Community Center on Saturday.

The former president visited Killeen to drum up support for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign. His choice of venue, the Community Center, was where many early voters have been filing in to cast their ballots.

During Clinton's 26-minute speech, he urged residents to vote twice on March 4 so that their votes are registered in both the primary and caucus delegate selections because the Texas Democratic Party system divides the delegates between a primary vote and a caucus vote.

"If you're really for Hillary, you gotta vote for her twice in Texas. You know that, don't you," he said. "Think of it as you're the only Americans in the entire country that can vote twice in the same election without going to jail for it."

A total of 126 delegates are awarded in the primary vote based on the 31 state Senate districts. An additional 42 delegates are awarded to the candidates based on voting results in precinct caucuses, which happen the night of March 4 and are announced during the state convention, where 60 more delegate votes will also be awarded.

Therefore, residents must vote not only vote in the primary, but also the caucus for their candidates to receive the most votes.

The former president stressed that Texas would be a deciding factor in the election.

"It's all down to Texas and Ohio," the former president said.

"Here in Texas Hill Country, it ought to be Hillary Country," Clinton said, playing off a comment from a fan in the crowd.

The former president also spoke about the war in Iraq, a topic on the hearts and minds of many in Killeen. Clinton said that not only are soldiers having to be engaged in war longer than they were during World War II, but are also enduring longer deployments, which has put a strain on the U.S. military.

"Our soldiers have been in Iraq longer than they were in World War II. Many of them have served longer deployments than they have in World War II," Clinton said. "As a result of that, the strains on the military are so great that in every measure of military readiness, the military is in worse shape today than the day I left office."

Clinton's words about longer deployments hit home with Tiffany Turner, of Killeen, who came with her 9-week-old daughter, Reese Turner. As Turner listened to Clinton speak, her thoughts were with her husband, Sgt. Jake Turner, who has been deployed since May 2007.

Turner said she has been a "huge Bush supporter," but is undecided about the 2008 election. She attended the former president's speech to hear what answers his wife has for the issues facing deployed soldiers.

Turner said she was pleased to hear Bill Clinton speak about his wife's plan to begin moving troops out of Iraq within 60 days of her taking office, though by then, her husband would be home. She said it was still a relief to know that the burden on other families would be eased.

"She has a plan, that's what matters to me," Turner said.

Clinton also said the war on terror has been fought in the wrong country and that the focus needs to be shifted to Afghanistan.

Clinton drew applause when he said the money spent in Iraq could be used to provide health benefits for America's uninsured.

"We are spending $120 billion a year in Iraq, and that's more than what could insure with health insurance every man, woman and child in America that doesn't have it."

However, Clinton said that some of that money must also be spent on America's war veterans for housing and job placement, as well as health care.

Clinton said his wife has promised not to allow the poor treatment Vietnam veterans received when they returned from an unpopular war to be repeated when the soldiers from Iraq return.

"She will not let that happen to the veterans. She will stand by them," he said.

Jesus Perez, a veteran of the Vietnam and Korean wars, said he turned out for the event because he believes Hillary Clinton's universal medical coverage plan will lessen the gap between the rich and poor.

"Our country needs something that not only the rich people can afford," Perez said.

The former president also spoke about Hillary Clinton's views on poverty, employment cutbacks and college tuition.

"He spoke about realistic goals and real things the nation needs," said Myrtle Captain, of Temple.

Clinton's speech drew not only area residents, but many turned out from Austin and other cities within several hours of Killeen.

Naomi Webber, 71, drove nearly three hours from her home in Llano with a copy of Clinton's autobiography, "My Life," in hand. Though Webber did not get the autograph she hoped, she left Saturday's event "very satisfied."

The crowd of supporters received a surprise when actor Ted Danson arrived about a half-hour ahead of Clinton. Danson said he flew in Saturday morning from a film project in New Orleans to speak at the rally in support of the Clintons, whom he has been friends with for more than 15 years.

"I'm so for Hillary, it's ridiculous," Danson said. "On veterans issues, she's been at the forefront of that.

"We're really going to have our hands full when some of these soldiers come back because of the traumatic brain injuries," Danson said. "She's been there trying to get them insurance and working on getting them a kind of GI Bill that will help them with housing and education."

Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock, City Manager Connie Green, City Councilman Billy Workman and Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin attended Clinton's speech.

Hancock and Workman said they hope more national and state leaders take a cue from Bill Clinton and come to address Killeen's residents.

Waco businessman and Democratic fundraiser Bernard Rappaport and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Florida, among others, spoke shortly before the former president spoke.

A scan of the several hundred people in attendance showed only two protesters opposing Hillary Clinton at Saturday's early-voting rally.

The former president also attended rallies and spoke to voters in Corpus Christi and El Paso on Saturday.

Information from The Associated

Press and the Houston Chronicle was used in this report.

Contact Victor O'Brien at vobrien@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7468

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