One sees them whenever Hillary Clinton arrives in town. Without the means to afford the often hefty ticket price to see her speak, they stand outside with homemade signs, chanting, “Hil-Lar-Ree!” They have replaced the background photograph on their Twitter profile to a simple picture of the former first lady; their bio lists Hillary Clinton alongside their favorite sports teams. For seven years, they have tracked her every move on social media. And the moment Hillary Clinton shoots the starter pistol on the 2016 campaign, they will leave behind jobs, families, and responsibilities, and go where she needs them.
To be clear, these aren’t the operatives and fundraisers and Clintonistas and Friends of Bill who are already hosting high-dollar fundraisers or angling for administration jobs. Some of them are, by their own admission, apolitical. But in Hillary Clinton they feel something beyond the usual kinship with a political figure who shares their ideas. It is more like a spiritual connection, one they describe in near-rapturous terms.
“I was never political whatsoever, like at all, but I always loved Hillary Clinton, and I always said that if she was ever going to run for president, I was going to do whatever I could to make that happen,” said Gretchen Baer, a 50-year-old artist from Brisbee, Arizona.
In 2008, that meant buying a number of Clinton’s famous pantsuits, on which Baer stenciled portraits of the candidate, “à la Andy Warhol,” and wore every day for months, she said. It meant making a “HillCar,” an art car covered with Clinton portraits, and traveling around the country like, she acknowledges, a Deadhead, to meet Clinton ahead of her campaign stops.
In 2016, Baer is thinking about hitting the road again, enlisting a team of artists to create their own HillCars, so that a brigade of cars, each with Clinton’s smiling face plastered on the hood, can greet the campaign wherever it goes.
If that sounds like devotion, consider the case of Aaron Darr, who pretty much ran away from his Ohio home at the age of 16 to volunteer for the Clinton campaign in 2008. Now he sports a tattoo of Clinton’s name in elegant script on his waist.
“It always reminds me of why I got into politics in the first place. She changed my life,” Darr said by phone from Florida, where he was laying the groundwork for his own run for office. “I think she just genuinely cares about people. She understands people’s struggles, and people understand that she understands.”
Darr is not the only Clintonista with Hillary ink. Luis Salgado, a 34-year-old tattoo artist now living in Kissimmee, Florida, got Clinton’s face on his upper thigh in 2008.
“I have a leg full of face tattoos, and she is just one of the people that inspired me,” he said, pointing out that Clinton’s visage was jostling for space with Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando. “I think she is great. She is a young woman for young women, and our country needs someone like her.”
Next consider the blogger who, for professional reasons, asked to be identified only by her blog name, “Still4Hill,” and who since 2008 has tracked Clinton news obsessively online, sometimes spending as much as five or six hours a day on it, writing up Clinton’s public appearances and rebutting the secretary of state’s negative press while working full time.
Still4Hill, who described her age as “baby boomer,” said it was the 2008 campaign that sparked her devotion.
“I was listening to her speeches and her debates, and everything she said stuck a chord with me,” the blogger said. “If she was running for class president when we were in school, I would have worked hard for her. When she suspended her campaign, that was when I started the blog. I was disappointed. I was lonely. I just wanted to start writing about her.”
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