tampabay.com

Sen. Clinton puts celebrity power to work in Tampa

During the $100-a-head event, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton raised nearly $150,000 for the Florida Democratic Party and offered a blistering assessment of the current administration, today in Tampa.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published February 25, 2006


TAMPA - New York Sen. Hillary Clinton turned her celebrity power to raising money for Florida Democrats Saturday, offering a blistering assessment of Republican leadership in Washington.

"I know you can get discouraged sometimes when you see what's happening in Washington. I also yell at the television set. Now that Bill and I have Tivo, Bill and I rewind it and yell again," the former first lady quipped to a crowded hotel ballroom. "But it's time to turn that frustration into action. We have to direct that action toward taking our country back and changing America. ... And we can target our passion. Lucky for us, we have better aim than some in Washington."

Wrapping up a three-day swing through Florida where she raised money for her own re-election campaign and for Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election campaign, Clinton in Tampa raised at least $150,000 for the Florida Democratic Party. She spoke to several hundred Democrats paying $100 each to see her at the Wyndham Westshore hotel and then attended $1,000-per person and $10,000-per-person receptions at the home of Janet Cruz Rifkin.

In her speech at the hotel, Clinton criticized the White House for its handling of hurricane Katrina, for driving up deficits while refusing to budge from tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. She said that Republican leaders are failing to adequately fund Everglades restoration, to invest in making ports less vulnerable to terrorists, are looking at drilling off the Florida coast, and produced a "badly flawed, drug-industry-written" prescription drug plan.

"They decided the most important health issues were exploiting the tragedy of Terri Schiavo and stifling stem cell research," said Clinton, who last year drew criticism for staying mum when the senate pushed for intervention in the Schiavo case.

As a mega star in the Democratic Party, Clinton is a champion fundraiser who has raised an estimated $50-million for Democrats across the country and invariably stirs speculation about her presidential aspirations. Several people at the Wyndham waved "Hillary for President in 2008" bumper stickers, and Dee Dee Smith, the wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith drew cheers with her question to the crowd: "Wouldn't it be great to see a woman in the White House?"

For all her star power, the wife of Bill Clinton is also a polarizing figure - on the right and the left.

Outside the hotel, activists with "Veterans For Peace" and "St. Pete For Peace" protested against her and Bill Nelson for voting to authorize the war in Iraq, and for not embracing a pull out of American forces. Meanwhile, the state Republican Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan bashed her as being too liberal to appeal to most Floridians.

"The truth remains, Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and the Democrat Party lack any agenda for winning the War on Terror or growing our economy," Jordan said in a statement.

The Tampa Tribune editorial page welcomed her to Tampa with an editorial beseeching her not to run for president: "Many people simply don't trust you. You may share your husband's name, but what people liked about him is not transferable to you."

Among those gathered to see her, however, most described her a unifying figure.

Bill Kerr, a retired Navy captain from Ponte Vedra Beach, had been a Republican for 47 years, before switching his allegiance to the Democrats after George W. Bush's first term. He clapped firmly, as the New York senator spoke of Washington Republicans making choices reflecting "ideology, influence and incompetence - sometimes all three."

He may not wind up supporting her for president, but Kerr said she's a strong voice for the Democratic Party. "She's mellowed, if you will, over the last couple years," Kerr said. "She's not nearly as far left as people used to think."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com