NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Hillary Clinton drew sizable crowds Friday at two rallies, both held at historically black colleges in Tennessee. It marked her first swing through the Volunteer State, which will vote in the Democratic primary on March 1, known as Super Tuesday.
Clinton attracted a very diverse crowd of 1,200 inside a gymnasium at Fisk University here and another 400 in an overflow area outside. Earlier, she stopped at LeMoyne-Owens College in Memphis, where 1,400 to 1,500 turned out see the Democratic front-runner, according to the campaign. They were, respectively, the fifth and sixth historically black schools Clinton has visited on the 2016 campaign trail thus far.
“Part of why we are great — already, Mr. Trump — is because we have the most unusual ability to bring people here and turn them into Americans.”'
While the crowds pale in comparison to some of the larger audiences her top rival Bernie Sanders has seen in liberal enclaves across the country, he’s been focusing on smaller events lately as the candidates eye the primaries and caucuses in March.
Clinton hewed close to her stump speech at both events here in Tennessee, but earned some of the loudest applause when she attacked Republicans, especially for their efforts to limit or bar Syrian refugees from entering the country after last week's Paris terror attacks.
“I don’t think we should be engaging in the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that I’ve been hearing from some of the Republican candidates,” she said in Nashville. “Part of why we are great — already, Mr. Trump — is because we have the most unusual ability to bring people here and turn them into Americans,” she said, playing on Donald Trump’s slogan to “make America great again.”
And she drew a sharp line between Islam and the narrow band of violent radicals. "Terrorism is not connected with religion. It is connected with a violent, fanatic fringe of jihadists and their perversions of religion,” she said.
On domestic policy, Clinton launched the next salvo in an engagement with Sanders on health care. Her campaign has decried that the senator would raise taxes on all Americans -- including the working- and middle-classes -- to pay for a single-payer plan. (His campaign says health savings would easily outweigh added tax costs).
Without mentioning Sanders’ name in Memphis, Clinton reiterated her opposition to raising taxes on those who make less than $250,000, but went further. She proposed a tax credit of $2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a family for health care costs not covered by insurance.
“You never know when that's going to happen to you. Somebody gets sick. Somebody has an accident. You've got to be prepared, but too many families don't have those resources,” she said.
"Terrorism is not connected with religion. It is connected with a violent, fanatic fringe of jihadists and their perversions of religion."'
Tennessee is one of 11 states that will vote on March 1, when Clinton and her challengers will compete over hundreds of nominating delegates.
While Iowa and New Hampshire earn the most attention from their spot at the beginning of primary season in early February, they hold fewer than a combined 100 delegates. Most of one of the March 1st states are worth more than either Iowa or New Hampshire, with Tennessee expected to have 77.
Clinton handily won this state in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary over Barack Obama, and while reliable polling of the state is scarce, Clinton is considered the strong favorite.
The campaign is hoping to build what some are describing as a Southern Firewall here and in other nearby states to insulate herself from Sanders. Many of the Super Tuesday states favor Clinton demographically, as they have large minority populations, where she tends to outperform Sanders. Her emphasis on historically black colleges is a nod to her strength especially among African-Americans, who made up more than 30% of the Democratic electorate in 2008.
Neither Clinton nor Sanders have any paid staffers in Tennessee, and Sanders has not yet visited. On Sunday and Monday, Sanders will campaign in Georgia, which is one of the bigger Super Tuesday states with 112 delegates.
But first, both will descend on Charleston, South Carolina, Saturday for a Democratic Party forum.
Kristen Welker and Monica Alba contributed to this report