chris ryan

IT'S 8 AM on Saturday morning, April 5, and we're headed toward Hillsboro. That's right—8 am, Saturday, Hillsboro. I can't believe it. My mind is overrun with thoughts and apprehensions about how this ill-conceived Hillary Clinton rally might stack up against Barack Obama's rock-star blow-through at the Memorial Coliseum last month.

But as we pull into the massive Liberty High School, site of Clinton's rally, I'm surprised.

A massive line twists for a quarter mile or more; hundreds and hundreds of people, most of whom are white, suburban, and middle aged, are waiting to get in. There are a few younger folk, though—and the fact that anyone under 30 dragged their ass out of bed for politics on a Saturday morning must mean something. The 3,000-person-capacity gymnasium will top out. Many will be turned away.

Inside, buzz is building. Two young, snotty status-climbers appear on the stage. They have an incredible plan: Turn the rally into a phone bank.

It's astounding. People are into it. Sheets with strangers' names and numbers—and barcodes—are handed out, complete with a "persuasion script." Overly enthusiastic callers are having their pitches both accepted and rejected. I want to vomit.

Clinton is running late, and the crowd is foaming at the mouth, ready to blow. Suddenly, here she comes in a brown pantsuit, along with Representative Darlene Hooley and Governor Ted Kulongoski. The gym bursts loud with love, and cameras pop like firecrackers. Clinton is doing her patented "Clap Clap, Point Point" routine. Hooley opens and totally outshines the bland Kulongoski.

Clinton's crew isn't as large as Obama's, but its hardcore members are fierce—and in this hot-shit race, they want to revel in it. It's their day at the rock show.

After another strong standing ovation—and an Obama joke about bowling—things quickly turn dark. Clinton begins firing off shots of thick buzz kill, mentioning troops without body armor, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and Vietnam all within the first two or three minutes. She plods forward like a flat-footed, small-town boxer who's fighting for a judge's decision, even though today should be fun.

Clinton's life of battles leaves her with a view of the future that is paved by struggle. Certainly it is her campaign narrative that the country needs a fighter—but at times her speech seems overly bleak.

Her supporters are into it, though. At one point the applause goes long. It was a signal: "We're not giving up this fight no matter what."

To Clinton's credit, she knows every wonky angle on the issues, but she can't seem to maintain momentum. "I know it's Saturday and you've got things to do," she tells the crowd at the end of her hour-long speech, giving people an out. "But if you want to stick around I'm going to answer some questions."

A slow drip of people begin heading toward the exits. Most of the questions—health care, environment, economy—were covered earlier in Clinton's stump, but it doesn't keep her from giving long, winding answers. Though the room remains mostly full, the stream of people trickling out grows.

Perhaps noticing, Clinton abruptly wraps it up. Hundreds crowd down to the rope line for autographs and handshakes and baby kisses. But more leave the gym, leaving me to wonder if Clinton needs to be reminded of the old show-biz maxim: Always leave them wanting more.