Chelsea Clinton drew an overflow audience Sunday evening to Grace Cafe in Cape Girardeau, answering questions for about an hour on topics that ranged from education and health care to immigration and the war in Iraq.
The 27-year-old daughter of Democratic presidential contender U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton and former president Bill Clinton displayed a laid-back campaign style, using humor to engage about 18 supporters of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul protesting outside. Early in the event, Clinton stepped away from her microphone and stepped outside, inviting the Paul supporters inside to ask questions and politely asking them to be quiet enough to allow those inside to hear the questions and her answers.
"I invited them in, but they didn't want to come," Clinton said when she returned to the microphone.
More than 130 people made their way inside the cafe to listen to Clinton. More than half raised their hands when asked if they were students at Southeast Missouri State University. Clinton campaign workers are bringing Chelsea Clinton to similar events in several of the 20 states, including Missouri, that will hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5.
In the most recent Missouri poll, conducted last week by Research 2000 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sen. Clinton held a 44 percent to 31 percent lead among likely Democratic voters over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, with 18 percent choosing former U.S. Sen. John Edwards.
During the course of her talk, Clinton defended her mother's positions without engaging in any sharp attacks either on Sen. Clinton's Democratic rivals or any Republican by name.
One of the early questioners asked for Clinton's feelings on the constant attacks made on her parents from the right. When the differences are over policy, she said she understands that people are passionate about politics. But when the attacks are personal, she said, she ignores them. "I don't have time to get upset about all the things people say about my parents that aren't true."
At the end of the event, Clinton urged all those in the room, especially the younger voters, to take part in the primaries. She noted that many pundits have professed surprise at the energy shown by voters in their 20s, who traditionally have the lowest turnout rates of any group.
"Please participate and please have your voices heard," she said. "There is a lot of hype about young people participating and I hope they are right."
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