Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came to the Triangle on Thursday, criticizing Republicans for undermining public education during a campaign rally at Durham’s Hillside High School.
She pledged, if elected, to lead a national teacher recruitment effort and to promote early childhood education.
North Carolina once was known for its commitment to public education, she said.
“We watched your Republican governor and legislature slowly erode the base of public education in this state,” she said. “Public education remains the foundation of our democracy.”
Clinton claimed that “teacher salaries have been slashed in North Carolina” – although the legislature increased pay for all teachers two years ago, and last year funded the second year of a two-year plan to raise pay for early career teachers.
Clinton also said she would encourage art and computer science education in schools.
Most education policies are the responsibility of states. But Sherry Nesmith, who works in before- and after-school programs for children, liked Clinton’s ideas and said the federal government could do more.
“Education has been really attacked,” she said. “Of everything that can be attacked, why education?”
Nesmith, 66, is concerned about low teacher pay and the disparities that she said give some students access to computer technology but leave others without.
“The federal government could do more to help the states,” she said.
Though the bulk of her remarks were on education, Clinton and those who introduced her struck hard on the theme of “breaking down barriers.”
“Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with a plan to break down barriers and deliver real results,” said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat who represents part of Durham and is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Clinton said she is running “to knock down every barrier that stands in your way,” as she was drowned out by cheers.
The high school gym bleachers were full of students. A crowd stood in a crush on the gym floor. Several of the attendees were strongly committed Clinton voters.
Ross Marnock, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, said he already had voted for Clinton.
Much is made of millennial voters’ support for her Democratic primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Marnock said, but Clinton has support among younger voters, too. Being more vocal “is something we as Hillary supporters need to work on,” he said.
The state is nearing the end of the early voting period, which will wind up Saturday, ahead of the Tuesday primary. Clinton and other speakers encouraged the crowd to vote early.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has scheduled a midday rally Friday in Raleigh.
Although Clinton has won the Southern primaries so far, Sanders’ surprise victory in Michigan this week keeps their competitive.
But Clinton’s prospects seem good in the Tar Heel primary, where her 2008 campaign was dealt a serious blow by President Barack Obama.
A Civitas Institute poll, released this week, found Clinton preferred by 57 percent of likely primary voters to 28 percent for Sanders.
In her speech, Clinton also promised to stand up to the gun lobby. She criticized Sanders for voting for a bill that gives gun manufacturers and sellers immunity from lawsuits.
“I voted against it; my opponent voted for it,” she said. “There is not another industry in America that has that kind of free pass.”
Vickie Hayes-McGee came to the rally as a Clinton backer and supporter of President Obama. Hayes-McGee, 50, said she believed Clinton would continue some of the work Obama started.
The mother of a college-age daughter and a son headed for N.C. State, she is interested in “programs or ideas for funding college education.”
But Stanley Norwood, 58, came still weighing his choices.
The Durham resident wanted to hear Clinton talk about closing the gap between the rich and poor, the mass incarceration of black males and foreign policy.
If Clinton wins the presidency, Norwood said, he hopes she’ll make Sanders part of her administration.
“I’d like to see them collaborate with each other,” he said.