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ESPANOLA — A line of people slowly began to snake its way along Hill Street near the Plaza de Española Thursday afternoon, hours in advance of President Bill Clinton’s appearance at the Diane Denish/Brian Colón rally. Though 5,000 tickets were distributed, 3,000-4,000 people showed up to the event.
The attendees waited patiently for a chance to see Denish and Clinton, who was in town to help promote Denish’s campaign for New Mexico governor. A man waiting in line got the attendees ready for the rally by leading them in a chant, screaming, “When I say Diane, you say Denish! When I say governor, you say Denish!”
Though some waited three hours or more, the gates were promptly opened at 3 p.m. and hundreds of people, many carrying Denish/Colón signs, flowed onto the plaza, quickly staking out their spots near the podium.
The event kicked off at 4 p.m. with Española Mayor Alice Lucero introducing city councilors and other city officials. Española Valley High School student Mariah Martinez sang the national anthem.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., stirred up the crowd when he said, “Tell me Española history isn’t wonderful. It all started here, not Jamestown or Plymouth Rock.”
Udall said Denish understands small business concerns and fought for ethics and transparency.
“She has a good relationship with the senate and the house. When it comes to experience, Diane Denish has it,” Udall said.
Democratic Party Leader Javier Gonzales took the podium next, followed by Denish.
She began her short speech saying, “I will fight against anyone who tries to take our water to Texas,” which drew a loud cheer from the crowd.
Denish talked about opponent Susana Martinez and her campaign funding.
“… We have seen money from fat cats flow into her campaign every day,” Denish said. “Bill Clinton knows something about turning around a tough economy, she said before introducing Clinton. “He created 10 million jobs, then along came the other side and drove us into the ditch.”
Following Denish’s comments, Clinton took the stage and began his stump in support of Denish.
“I keep thinking I’m too old for this,” Clinton said, also mentioning that he spends most of his time working on his foundation, the William J. Clinton Foundation. “I only planned to do one stop, he said of his recent travels. I loaded up and started strolling around.”
Clinton said that the state is facing critical challenges and pointed out that there is a very big difference between Denish and Martinez. The former president referred to Martinez as a “native Texan” and several times mentioned the large contributions she’s received from Texas individuals and companies. The largest donation from individuals was $450,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and his wife. Perry helped bankroll Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran ads against Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
Clinton said Denish would protect New Mexico’s natural resources and he suggested that some of Martinez’ political contributors from Texas were interested in water from New Mexico.
“I feel bad about Texas being short of water. Really, I do,” Clinton said. “But you know, I don’t feel so bad that I think they should have two governors and New Mexico none.”
“I have nothing against Diane’s opponent,” Clinton said.
Denish’s campaign has aired a television ad promising to protect land and water. It calls Martinez a “Tejana” — a term that in New Mexico can be used disparagingly to describe someone from Texas. With the general election slightly more than two weeks away, the Denish campaign used Clinton’s appearance to try to generate enthusiasm among Hispanics and the Democratic base. Espanola is heavily Hispanic and a traditional Democratic stronghold.
Denish faces problems in the election because Martinez is siphoning off nearly one in five Democratic voters and almost 30 percent of Hispanics, according to the Albuquerque Journal poll.
Clinton also said the country is in a “fix” and pointed out that there was a terrible collapse in the economy.
He also spoke about President Barack Obama’s plans to fix the economic situation and the Republicans’ criticism of his approach, “You can’t take a freight train going 150 miles per hour and stop it in 13 seconds,” he said.
Clinton praised Denish’s experience as a two-term lieutenant governor and said she was better prepared than Martinez to turn around the state’s economy and improve the educational system to prepare children for future jobs.
Clinton said he was “grateful” that Martinez has worked for most of her career as a prosecutor, but “frankly today we need to worry more about putting people in jobs than putting people in jail.”
He also said that Denish is the only one with a credible economic plan.
In his closing statements, Clinton urged those in attendance to “bring the election home.”
“We can’t do it without you,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Garcia at lacommunity@la
Associated Press writer Barry Massey contributed to this story.