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Houston Chronicle: Clinton talks up jobs, health care at Houston event

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 23, 2008, 11:32PM

Acknowledging that she’s counting on Texas to turn the tide in her bid for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton urged an enthusiastic crowd of Houstonians late Saturday to make their voices heard in the Democratic primary.

“This is the most important election in your lifetime,” Clinton told the crowd of more than 500.

Clinton was joined by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and several other politicians at the Solutions for America speech at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall — a last-minute addition to her whirlwind tour of Texas. Chelsea Clinton, who turns 28 Wednesday, accompanied her mom to the Houston event.

“When we look at the faces of all of you we know we can win this race in Texas,” said Jackson Lee, Clinton’s national campaign co-chair. “Some have predicted this cannot be done, but I want to have some believers in this room.”

Clinton, who talked of the importance of making sure Texans have jobs and affordable health care, gave a thumbs up to the crowd as she took the stage at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday. As they waited more than 90 minutes to hear from their presidential pick, a crowd of several hundred supporters waved handmade signs and chanted “Hil-la-ry! Hil-la-ry!” and “Texas is Hil-Country.”

With early voting under way for Texas’ March 4 primary, the Lone Star state has become the front lines in the increasingly heated contest between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. After 11 consecutive losses in primaries and caucuses, Clinton hopes victories in Texas and Ohio will jump-start her faltering bid for the Democratic nomination. Obama, on the other hand, wants to capitalize on his momentum to increase his narrow lead in delegates.

Carla Valenzuela, a 45-year-old paralegal, said she isn’t discouraged by Clinton’s string of losses, most recently in the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries.

“It took us by surprise perhaps, but her people are coming out to support her in droves,” said Valenzuela, who wore a black T-shirt reading ‘Madam President 2008: Making History.’ “She’s going to get huge overwhelming support in Texas. I’m 100 percent convinced she’s going to put all those pundits to shame.”

Nearby, 50-year-old Annette Chavez held up a sign reading “The White House is no place 4 training wheels.”

Chavez , a benefits consultant for Shell Oil, said the media has unfairly attacked Clinton, while giving Obama a free ride.

She said that “Obamamania” makes her nervous.

“It’s cultish,” she said.

At an Obama campaign rally earlier Saturday on the steps of Houston City Hall, 15-year-old J. Xavier rapped to the crowd on a microphone, pumping his right hand in the air in time with the music.

“Go tell your mama, vote for Obama,” chanted Xavier, who was decked out in a backwards baseball cap and Barack Obama “Hope” T-shirt.While Xavier is too young to vote, he said kids need to lobby their parents to cast ballots for Obama.

“I’m here to really get the word out, to represent for young people coming up now,” Xavier said. “He’s really plain and straight to the point. I think he can make it happen. We’re ready for change.”

After the rally, about 75 people, carrying signs reading “Hope brings change” and “Tejanos for Obama,” marched to cast ballots at a early voting location a half dozen blocks away.

His candidacy has energized young voters who were never active before, said Chris Aresu, a 22-year-old Rice student.

“He’s really hitting the nail on the head when he says the reason students and young people are apathetic right now is that the two major political parties have been engaging in partisan bickering,” Aresu said. “But when they see a new candidate like Obama with all these brave new ideas calling to end all the divisions of the past, that’s something that really appeals to students. It makes us feel like for once we really have a stake.”

At a Clinton campaign event at the south campus of Houston Community College, about 40 people stood in line Saturday afternoon to get autographs from members of the Grammy Award-winning group La Mafia.

Mayra Gutierrez couldn’t concentrate with La Mafia sitting just outside her classroom window. So the HCC freshman asked her teacher to be dismissed from grammar class.

Members of this superstar group Saturday swaggered around town — from southeast Houston to the East End — stumping for Clinton, who is working hard to court the Hispanic vote.

Chronicle reporter Leslie Casimir contributed to this report.

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