Crowded into a small mom-and-pop coffee shop in Stone Ridge, alongside two dozen members of the press and secret service officers, a handful of Loudoun County families got to chat with Hillary Clinton today.
The former secretary of state and leading Democratic presidential nominee made a campaign stop at Mug’N Muffin, owned by a Purcellville couple, to talk about struggles facing middle class families.
Clinton took about a dozen questions from supporters in attendance—not one from the press. But Gabriel Saines, the 10-year-old son of Loudoun County Supervisor Koran Saines, asked the question on everybody’s mind: Why is Clinton running for president?
Clinton smiled at Gabriel and said, “Because I really want to make sure young people like you have the very best future in our country. That’s what I care about.”
She said it takes a good education system, access to quality health care and a competitive job market to make that happen. “We have to break down all the barriers that stand in the way of anybody having a chance to do that.”
About 20 people were invited to attend the event and ask Clinton questions. Saines, Leesburg Vice Mayor Kelly Burk and candidate for Leesburg Town Council Evan Macbeth were among those present.
Possibly not surprising to some, Loudoun’s lack of universal full-day kindergarten was the first topic broached. How to provide a six-hour school day to all local kindergartners was the most repeated issue on the campaign trails of local candidates last fall. Abbe Macbeth, a Leesburg parent, told Clinton that Loudoun is one of three jurisdictions in the state that do not offer universal full-day kindergarten, and the only school system in the Washington, DC, region.
Clinton said she’d like to see every public school in the nation provide a full academic day to kindergartners and, one day, even to preschool kids. She alluded to the fact that the federal government will need to help make it possible.
“I think that the state and the county and public school system have a role to play but we have to look at how to create a more robust structure so that more kids get that early instruction,” she said.
The candidate took the opportunity to point out a few differences between her policies and those proposed by her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Taking a question from Northern Virginia Community College academic counselor Rosemary Nigrelli, Clinton said, “Both of us have plans to make college affordable. I think mine is better, but we both have plans.”
Clinton wants to make community college free, as well as to create a federal program that allows low-income students to attend a four-year public college or university without having to take out a loan. She also wants to help expand the use of federal Pell grants to cover non-tuition fees, and give bonuses in the form of federal dollars to states that increase their high education funding.
“Bernie Sanders wants college to be free for everybody,” she said. “If you say it’s free there’s no incentive for the universities to try to lower their costs, and I want there to be a give and take here.”
Clinton also addressed the need for paid maternity leave—ideally three months—and equal pay for women in the workforce. Many companies, even without realizing it, are paying women less than men who have the same work experience, education and skill set. It will take updating laws to make public sector pay scales more transparent and encouraging companies to examine their practices to get there, Clinton stressed.
“We need to stay on this—we can’t just let people claim that it’s not a real issue,” she said. “I’m accused of playing the gender card and all that. But the fact is it’s a real problem and we have to be tenacious about it.”
Esther Lee traveled from neighboring Fairfax County with her two children, 7-year-old Katie and 5-year-old CJ, to meet Clinton today. She supports the former secretary of state for president because she says Clinton understands the challenges typical working moms face.
“Northern Virginia is a high-cost area and it’s a struggle for families to provide as many opportunities as we can for our kids, while holding down a job and paying the bills,” she said. “I think she gets that.”
Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, but Sanders has gained more popularity—and more delegates—than most establishment Democrats expected. Sanders told the press last week that he would not drop out of the presidential race before the party’s convention in July. The Democratic nominee will likely face Republican Donald Trump in the race for the White House.