Clinton in Ann Arbor: 'We have a lot of work to do'

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Michigan was not what Hillary Clinton had hoped for, but in her first trip back after losing the state, the former Democratic candidate told a crowd what matters now is what she and everyone else does to shape the future.

“Do not grow weary,” Clinton said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Clinton, at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus Tuesday as part of her “What Happened” book tour, said that women need to step up and become part of the political process. First, she said, they will have to develop a thick skin.

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“There is a price that you face,” Clinton said, “and you have to decide how much you are willing to pay when you enter the public arena, as Eleanor Roosevelt said. You are immediately going to be attacked, criticized, questioned ... You have to be really prepared. You have to go in with your eyes open.

Clinton spoke for more than an hour and told the audience, which was mostly women, that they need to start building the confidence of young girls at an early age and stop falling into the trap of allowing women to be attacked on the political stage and elsewhere.

“We just don’t have enough women in positions of leadership,” said Clinton, who served for nearly 40 years as an activist, lawyer, first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

She appeared before a nearly sold-out crowd at Hill Auditorium, and talked about what happened during the 2016 campaign before she held a question-and-answer session with University of Michigan English professor Anne Curzan.

“I did not expect to write a book immediately after the election,” Clinton said. “I was pretty devastated and shocked about what had happened.”

Then she began seeing analyses about what others thought had happened. Some of it rang true, but some of it did not. Writing about it helped her understand what happened, and she felt she owed it to those who worked, volunteered and voted for her, she said.

Clinton said former FBI director Jim Comey’s letter about the renewed investigation into her private email account days before the election was “determinative.”

“It disrupted my momentum and caused a lot of voters to question whether they could support me, and that was particularly true among women,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s tour arrived in Michigan as Republicans launched a new investigation into her on Tuesday. The House Oversight and Judiciary committees said they would review the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and the decision not to prosecute her. Democrats derided the announcement as a “massive diversion” from investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

But the news didn’t spoil the excitement for those who had come to hear Clinton, including some who paid $400 for a face-to-face meeting before the talk.

“As a woman, I really look up to her and feel she should have been president,” said Brooke Eason of Livonia.

Maureen Dyer of East Lansing added that Clinton has “gotten a raw deal over the years” and wondered how America would be different if she had won.

“I admire her,” said Dyer, a retired lawyer. “I wish she had the power to make things different right now. It’s scary stuff.”

Clinton’s memoir, published Sept. 12, gives her account of her campaign to become America’s first female president. It is her seventh book.

In her opening comments Tuesday, Clinton gave an overview of some of the themes of her book, saying that everyone gets knocked down, but they need to get back up.

She said there was no such thing as an alternative fact and the “only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into office.”

She also reflected on Russian intervention in the election. “The forces at work in the 2016 election are still with us,” Clinton said.

Clinton spent much of her speech examining the Russian theft of Democratic National Committee emails, which were used to target voters via social media, including those in Michigan. She called it cyber warfare, and compared it to Watergate.

She also retold the story of how an armed, North Caroline man traveled to a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor and fired shots after reading conspiracy theories on social media during the election that Clinton and her campaign chief were operating a child sex ring in the backroom.

“This is what we were up against,” Clinton said. “This is not going to stop. This is an ongoing threat.”

Clinton ran twice for the White House, first losing the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008. Though she narrowly lost to Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s Democratic primary in 2016, she went on to become the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party.

She won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote to Trump.

In the November election, Clinton lost Michigan by 10,703 votes after Trump energized white voters without a college education and flipped 12 counties in the state that had voted for Obama in 2012.

Some said they remain sad about her loss, including Chelsea Knowles, who woke up Tuesday and got teary-eyed as she put on a T-shirt she’d worn the night that Clinton lost the election. As she was standing in line to enter the auditorium, she thought about the impact Clinton had had on her life.

“She was a pivotal figure for me,” said Knowles, whose T-shirt said: “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.”

“She inspired and encouraged me ... she brought women to the face of politics and she’s my biggest inspiration.”