Chelsea Clinton visits MSU to push for mom

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Chelsea Clinton on Thursday night spoke at Michigan State University to a room of hundreds about the burden of crippling student debt and the opioid epidemic plaguing the country.

She made her pitch in the university’s Student Union to the younger crowd on behalf of her mother, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, saying she’s the only candidate passionate about doing something for those saddled with debt or addiction.

“I’m really really proud to be her daughter,” she said. “But I’d like to think, even if I weren’t her daughter, I would be just as passionate about her campaign and just as excited to vote for her.”

Chelsea Clinton discussed her mom’s “new college compact” plan to make college more affordable and grant free tuition for students at community college. She also touched on plans meant to stymie opioid addiction consistent with broader political discussions underway in Michigan and elsewhere.

“No one should die of an overdose in the 21st century,” she said.

She said Hillary Clinton supports having income-based student debt repayment options, and said no graduates should have to pay more than 10 percent of their income, an option available for some borrowers. Clinton wants to expand income-based repayment options and cap repayment at 10 percent of borrowers’ income for all student debt holders.

Thursday night’s visit to MSU is part of a two-day campaign trip to Michigan. She spoke at a Grand Rapids art gallery earlier Thursday afternoon and plans to be in Flint on Friday for a briefing on the beleaguered city’s ongoing water crisis, according to the Clinton campaign.

After a few brief remarks about college affordability and addiction, Clinton opened up for a question-and-answer session with people in the crowd.

Several students talked about their mothers and how inspirational they were, sharing personal stories and concerns, from Muslim “hate crimes,” to wanting more aid for special education teachers and funding for Alzheimer’s research.

After one question about hate speech and hate crimes toward Muslims, Clinton criticized what she called the “normalization of hate speech” from the Republican party, including Islamophobia, racism, and charged rhetoric aimed at veterans.

“I mean the list goes on and on,” she said, referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “That is not our country. And I do think that’s also what’s at stake in this election ... is our core values as a country. Stronger together is not just a slogan for my mother, but love trumps hate isn’t a slogan either.”

But Clinton did not spend much of her East Lansing visit bashing Trump. She tailored her remarks toward her mother.

Thomas Schmitz, a 20-year-old MSU student who waited in line for the speech, said he doesn’t think “there’s anybody more qualified to hold the office of president.”

Schmitz said he voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary election but now supports Hillary Clinton because she won the nomination.

Several of the students in attendance mentioned they had originally been enthusiastic about Sanders, but insist there’s something to like in Clinton more than just voting against Trump.

“I’m really excited,” said Sarah Kennedy, an education junior at MSU. “She’s always been my role model ever since I was young. And for her to be running and actually be the Democratic nominee is really exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing her presidency.”

Kennedy weighed in on why she thought more younger voters seemed enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders than Clinton.

“I think Hillary is a person that talks more about facts and her experience and how she’s gonna get things done, whereas Bernie, he’s just as capable, but he talks of the big picture, and I think for a young person, a kind of dreamer person, they’re more attracted to Bernie,” she said.

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has 34 campaign offices in Michigan and is working on opening the 35th this weekend, according to a Michigan campaign official. The campaign has organizers that focus on getting younger voters on college campuses registered to vote.

Twitter: @MikeGerstein