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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Clinton rallies University students

The former president came to campus to raise support for Gov. Dayton and Sen. Franken.

Amid roaring fans and snapping camera shutters, former President Bill Clinton calmly strode onto Northrop Auditorium’s stage Friday. The crowd hushed as he began to speak.

With the University of Minnesota appearance, Clinton drummed up support for Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in light of November’s election. In his speech, Clinton said the Minnesota candidates plan to help students and stressed the importance of young voters casting ballots on Election Day.

Dayton is running against Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, and Republican Mike McFadden is challenging Franken.

Although the campus event attracted heavy media coverage and represented a success for campaign leaders, experts say Clinton’s appearance won’t necessarily persuade students to vote in the election.

“I would not view [the event] to be a game-changer, especially if you’re looking at these top-of-the-ticket races,” said Eric Ostermeier, a research associate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Clinton spoke about issues like battling Islamic State recruitment efforts in Minnesota, student debt and the state’s recently raised minimum wage.

“There has not been a single time in my experience when raising the minimum wage didn’t help the economy,” he said, adding that an increased minimum wage for the state and the country is a “no-brainer.”

Dayton’s campaign manager, Katharine Tinucci, said expanding job opportunities and making education available for young students are top priorities for Clinton and Dayton.

“President Clinton is a great campaigner,” she said. “I think it’s an important campaign event for the governor’s re-election.”

Ostermeier said he doubts the high-profile speech will be enough to convince the public to vote for Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates.

“I don’t think most Democrats feel the race is that much under control at this point,” he said, noting that President Barack Obama has an approval rating of about 40 percent. “I think they are still worried, even in a bluish state like Minnesota.”

Matthew Boelke, president of the University’s College Republicans, said although Clinton discussed student issues, he isn’t necessarily the most qualified elected official to comment on policies affecting students today.

He said inviting a current politician, like President Obama, to speak would have been more relevant to Dayton and Franken’s campaigns.

The University’s College Democrats and the state’s DFL Party hosted the event. Speeches from several party leaders — like Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Dayton and Franken — were also included.

Each of the leaders told event-goers that the governor and senator have worked hard to make health care and tuition more affordable for students, while emphasizing their appreciation for student involvement in the campaigns.

Journalism sophomore Blake Apgar, who attended Clinton’s speech, said he will vote for Democratic candidates in Wisconsin’s election, and he said he couldn’t resist the allure of seeing the former United States leader.

“I don’t think you should ever miss a chance to see a president speak in person,” Apgar said. “This hasn’t really changed anything [for me]. It’s just gotten me more excited for the upcoming election.”

But president of the College Democrats Jack Fate said hosting big-name figures like Clinton gives students incentive to listen for reasons to vote.

“This is a good way of making the political process more interesting,” Fate said, noting that most of the students who attended seemed more hyped for the celebrity appearance than interested in politics.

He emphasized the importance of each student’s vote, recalling Franken’s narrow victory in 2008.

Clinton pushed the same point, telling excited audience members their votes are significant.

“I’m here because I believe the best days of this country are still ahead,” he said.

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