Hillary Clinton still knows how to draw a crowd.
Looking rested, fit, and raring to go, Clinton energized a packed ballroom of 2,500 at the Marriott Marquis — the largest crowd in the new hotel's history — with a positive message to get involved, make a difference and turn Texas blue. The luncheon in support of Annie's List, an organization dedicated to electing progressive, pro-choice women to elective office in the Lone Star State, raised upwards of $1 million.
Clinton didn't spend much time looking back at the close presidential race and her surprising loss in the Electoral College in the 30-minute speech but instead focused on the power of the people to change things. "I've been at this a long time and what I've learned is this: Nothing in politics in a democracy is permanent," she said.
She opened with some comments on the situation in Syria, calling on the Trump administration to develop a broad long-term strategy with our allies to solve the problem. "I also hope that they will recognize that we cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies and in the next, close America's doors to them," she said to thunderous applause.
Clinton, who received a prolonged standing ovation when she entered the ballroom stage, joked that she got the invitation to speak in Houston during one of her infamous "walk in the woods" after the presidential election "and there it was on a rock....When I saw the invitation on the rock, I said, 'I'm going.' " Actually the event's honoree, Amber Anderson Mostyn, called Clinton and invited her. Mostyn and her husband, Steve, are big financial supporters of Clinton and the Democratic party.
Clinton fondly recalled her first visit to Texas during the 1972 presidential election when, as a 24-year-old, she and her then-boyfriend (and future president) Bill Clinton spent several months registering voters. "It affected the rest of my life," she said.
She recalled swimming in Lake Travis "probably illegally," dancing at the Armadillo in Austin, drinking "my share of Shiner," and crossing the border into Mexico — "in those days it wasn't that hard" — for her first plate of goat, and making long-lasting friendships. "They were part of the unforgettable experience we had," she said.
She noted that although she lost the state in the most recent presidential election, the margin was cut from 16 points to nine, making it the biggest gain for Democrats of any state in the nation, and she carried Harris County by 12 percent. Democrats picked up five seats in the state House and Clinton carried three districts in the U.S. House of Representatives in the state that are currently represented by Republicans (including John Culberson in Houston's 7th District).
"Even though things may be bleak, just turn off the TV. It just gets you agitated and upset," she joked before turning serious. "I see a big tent Democratic party, a progressive movement that produces results for all Americans, no matter who they are or where they live."
She noted that if Texans vote at the same rate as Californians do, the state would go for the Democrats overnight. "If we can get people in Texas to turn out and vote, Texas will turn blue," she said.
"I have this saying, this mantra that comes to my head, it's the kind of thing that helps me stay focused — Resist, Insist, Persist, Enlist. Those four words give something for all of us to do," she said.