FAIRFAX, Virginia – Hillary Clinton fired up almost 2,000 Virginia Democrats Friday night here at a party fundraiser hosted by her old friend, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in one of the first major rallies of her second presidential campaign.
She said she was thrilled to be speaking to Democrats on “Such a historic day for our country.”
Just hours ago, Clinton had attended the funeral for slain South Carolina pastor Clementa Pinckney, and before that celebrated the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. She called it “an emotional roller coaster of a day,” pleased that “love triumphed in the highest court in our land.”
But she cautioned that the fight on both LGBT rights and race relations is not over. She also vowed, “I for one am never going to stop fighting” for gun control.
Inside the cavernous Patriot Center arena on the campus of George Mason University, it felt more like June 2016 than June 2016.
The screaming fans who often rose to their feet and chanted Clinton’s name, the many invocations of “our next president,” and setting in a key swing state, made the rally feel like a general election pep rally. That, even though Clinton aides have said she is squarely focused on the primary campaign and even as Sen. Bernie Sanders surges in polls.
Speaker after speaker praised Clinton as if the Democratic nomination were a fait accompli. “Hillary Clinton is our choice for the future!” said Sen. Mark Warner, the state’s popular Democratic senator, to cheers.
And Clinton kept her sights squarely on Republicans, firing off on them on issue after issue. “Across the board, they are the party of the past, not the future,” she said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly obliquely mentioned the other Democrats running for the nomination before waving them off. “Nobody has a stronger resume to be president of the United States than Hillary Rodham Clinton,” said Connolly, who welcomed everyone to “Clinton territory.”
Nearly every speaker said it was time to put a woman in the White House.
But more than anything, the event was a chance for Clinton to help her old friend McAuliffe build the Democratic Party in a key presidential battleground state.
Clinton is rushing to fill her coffers ahead of the end of the finance quarter next week, but she will make no money from her appearance here. All the proceeds – more than $1 million, according to officials – will go to the Virginia Democratic Party.
McAuliffe chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection run. He’s raised tens of millions of dollars for both Clintons, and is now working to win the Virginia state Senate for Democrats and hold the seat in 2016.
Reunited on stage, McAuliffe now the governor of a large state and Clinton cruising to the Democratic nomination after both lots their first tries at each, they displayed the easy chemistry of old allies.
“This is personal for me,” said McAuliffe of Clinton. “We’ve worked hard together, we’ve played hard together.”
The governor explained that if he and his wife are on vacation with the former first couple, and he wants to enjoy a beer or cocktail in the evening, “I don’t go looking for Bill Clinton. I go looking for Hillary Clinton. She’s a lot more fun that Bill Clinton is!”
The love was mutual. Clinton said she was “starting to run out of superlatives” while praising McAuliffe after he introduced her.
“He’s my kind of leader, a pragmatic progressive,” Clinton added. “He prefers common ground to scorched earth.”
Clinton will need a strong Democratic Party if she makes it to the general election in 2016 in the Virginia, which has become a key state in Democrats’ post-Obama election electoral map.
Virginia Democrats have been on a tear lately, and especially under McAuliffe. The party now controls all five statewide offices for the first time in 40 years and has won two presidential elections in a row.
McAuliffe and the party are gearing up to try to win control of the state Senate in November of 2015, and the political organization they build can then be turned around to support Clinton.