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Clinton ignites supporters with rousing St. Louis speech that takes on GOP

Instead of presenting a policy address, as initially billed, Hillary Clinton delivered the political red meat Friday night that her supporters crave.

“I’m going to defend our civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, workers rights,” the Democratic presidential hopeful declared to hundreds packing a St. Louis union hall.

The crowd’s cheers turned into a roar when Clinton added, “I will defend a woman’s right to choose! And I will defend Planned Parenthood!”

The roar became deafening when she promised to “fight against the gun lobby’’ for "common-sense" gun restrictions.

Hillary Clinton St. Louis union Dec. 11, 2015
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Crowd cheers during Clinton's remarks

She touched on the need for more manufacturing jobs, better public education, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, equal pay for women, and confronting climate change.

But Clinton’s primary aim at her St. Louis rally appeared more at energizing the Democratic base who already know her views.  She was joined on stage by Sen. Claire McCaskill, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, all of whom delivered that same common message.

Clinton also gave a shout-out to the likely Democratic nominee for governor, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who stood in the audience.

With a smattering of signs outside the hall supporting rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton sought to underscore her experience, her toughness and her willingness to defend the party’s values, as well as her own.

The banner hanging behind her lectern was direct: “Fighting for us.”

Her theme music also fit in: Katy Perry’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

Blames GOP for nation's financial troubles

The Missouri Republican Party issued a statement asserting that the public was well aware that Clinton was siding "with environmental extremists over union workers by opposing the Keystone Pipeline, and they have witnessed her convert her political power into massive personal wealth, making millions of dollars giving speeches to special interests. The truth is, Hillary Clinton doesn’t feel your pain, and she doesn’t share your values.”

Hillary Clinton St. Louis union Lacy Clay Dec. 11, 2015
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Clinton clasps hands with U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis

But Clinton accused Republicans of counting on the public to have “amnesia’’ so they’d forget the GOP’s economic stumbles that Clinton contended was responsible for destroying the American Dream for many middle-class families.

Clinton recalled how her husband, Bill Clinton, left office in early 2001 with a balanced budget and a legacy of creating more than 20 million jobs.

But the Republicans who took over, she said – without mentioning George W. Bush and his congressional allies – went back to “their wrong-headed economic policies.”

“Back they went, cutting taxes on the wealthy, getting out the way of corporations,  taking their eyes off the financial and the mortgage markets,” Clinton said. “We ended up in the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

“We were losing 800,000 jobs a month, 9 million million people lost their jobs, 5 million homes were lost,” she declared. “I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for saving us from falling into a Great Depression.”

While praising her husband and her former boss, Clinton emphasized, “I am not running for my husband's third term. I am not running for President Obama's third term. I'm running for my first term…But I intend to do what works."

Clinton's speech didn't touch on race, which was the key focus of her last visit to the St. Louis area in June. However, her campaign did make a point of making sure that Lesley McSpadden -- mother of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose death ignited the Ferguson unrest -- had a spot at the front of Friday night's crowd.

Before Clinton appeared at the rally, she first attended a private fundraising event at a home in Ladue. Clinton remains, by far, Missouri's top money-raiser among the presidential candidates -- in both parties.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.