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Clinton pledges support for unions, and accuses Trump of inciting unrest

Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Before renewing her promises to bolster the nation’s economy, Hillary Clinton first launched Saturday into a fiery condemnation of those she said were out to destroy it.

“The ugly, divisive rhetoric that we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement that he has given to violence and aggressiveness is not only wrong, it’s dangerous, my friends,’’ declared the Democratic presidential contender, touching off deafening cheers from the crowd packing the Carpenters’ union training facility in Affton.

Clinton asserted that the passions and violence that have erupted at several of GOP rival Trump’s rallies – including his St. Louis stop on Friday – are fanning flames of discontent that could consume the country.  Trump canceled rallies Friday night in Chicago and Saturday in Cincinnati, with the Chicago event devolving into a melee seen on TV sets nationwide.

“If you play with matches, you can start a fire you cannot control,’’ Clinton said. “That is not leadership. It’s political arson.”

True leadership, she continued, required that “if you see bigotry, you should oppose it. If you see violence, you should condemn it. And if you see a bully, you should stand up to him.”

Clinton’s blasts at Trump also fit in with her general message, in which she accused Republicans of unfairly targeting unions and the middle-class workforce they represent.

“You don’t make America great by getting rid of what made America great in the first place,’’ she said. (You can click on this link to find audio of her complete speech.)

Rick Hasler, a teacher in the Parkway system, was among a number of educators who showed up at the rally sporting special pro-Clinton T-shirts.  Hasler said he believed Clinton valued the importance of public education. In addition, he added,  "I believe she has the right experience to be able to work with world leaders and across the aisle."

Elizabeth Remus of University City offered similar sentiments.  Referring to Clintion's Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, Remus observed, "I like Bernie, but I just think he's too liberal. I don't see how anything he's proposing can get through Congress.''

Remus was among several women in the crowd who said they also believe it's time that the United States had a woman president. Christine Porter, of Florissant, said there's no question that Clinton is the most qualified of the candidates in either party. And she added with a chuckle, "It's time for a woman to clean up after all these men."

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who's running for the U.S. Senate, touched off cheers when he told the crowd that Clinton was "the most qualified candidate to ever run for president'' since George Washington, with the exception of Missouri's own Harry S Truman.

Clinton calls unions crucial for middle-class

The crowd cheered its approval as Clinton emphasized her opposition to “right to work,’’ which would restrict union rights in the workplace, and related measures.

Her promise to focus on the middle-class was underscored by her campaign’s decision to have her introduced by a union carpenter, Nathan Garrett, instead of one of the politicians that shared the stage.

Garrett’s passionate speech – which drew accolades from Clinton – touted unions and the trades they represent as providing the best “pathways to prosperity that do not include an expensive education or military service.”

Many supporters brought signs. Clinton rally 031216
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Many supporters brought signs.

Garrett’s address echoed the support that union leaders highlighted at Saturday’s rally, and at last Tuesday’s pro-union event in Bridgeton featuring former President Bill Clinton.

Labor leaders repeatedly emphasized at both rallies that they viewed Hillary Clinton as the unions’ best hope for blocking efforts by conservatives and corporations to curb labor’s power in the workplace and in politics.

But both Clintons, in turn, have made clear that they need labor support – and union votes – if she is to win the Democratic nomination, and be victorious in November.

Missouri in eye of March 15 storm

Missouri’s significance in that quest has grown substantially since Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss last Tuesday in the Michigan Democratic primary to rival Bernie Sanders.

Sources in both campaigns acknowledge that Sanders is hoping for repeats in Tuesday’s primaries in Missouri and Ohio, both states where labor wields powerful Democratic muscle.

A sizable chunk of the region’s pro-labor voters reside in south St. Louis County, which explains why Clinton chose the training center in Affton for Saturday’s rally.

That could well be why Sanders’ rally here on Sunday also will be held nearby, at Affton High School.

Both camps privately acknowledge that Missouri’s Democratic primary results could be close.  Which also explains why Chelsea Clinton, the candidate’s daughter, will be in the area on Monday to encourage volunteers at a campaign phone bank.

Meanwhile, Clinton also paid attention to another key voting constituency – minority voters – by stopping by the O’Fallon Park Recreation Center, in north St. Louis, where several campaign workers and supporters were gathered.

On Sunday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., an African-American, is scheduled to be in town to campaign on Clinton’s behalf.

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