The 200 people seated in the Ferry Building's Great Hall were just one of 22 gatherings across the nation, all linked to Hillary Clinton's New York City event as it was broadcast live on the Hallmark Channel and streamed on her campaign's Web site. The junior senator from New York took one question from each city.
In San Francisco the question came from Vietnam veteran Jack Harris, 55, of San Mateo, who asked whether she would sign legislation guaranteeing full funding of health care and other benefits for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I will sign such legislation; I will invite such legislation; I have been an advocate of mandatory full funding for the Veterans Administration," she replied, adding she has found it "heartbreaking" to see the Bush administration fight necessary funding.
These wars' scars run deep, she said. "Sometimes you can see them, the lost limb, the lost eyesight, but sometimes you can't" as so many veterans return with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. She touted her Heroes at Home Act, a bill which would seek to improve diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries.
As commander in chief, she said, she would never send troops into harm's way unless
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom kicked off the Bay Area event at 5 p.m., leading the crowd in listing possible questions to pose for the broadcast. Among the suggestions: What would she do to secure the American ideal of "liberty and justice for all" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? How would she further the goal of Middle East peace? How would she end the nation's dependence on oil?
Bill Clinton joined the event about 20 minutes before the broadcast began. He said that as "a policy wonk" he was gratified by "the enormous number of people who come to meetings like this" to share their concerns with candidates.
He also took an early stab at answering Harris' question.
"We have to spend whatever we have to spend to make sure we don't make this mistake again" of neglecting veterans' needs as we did after Vietnam, he said. "Their country was not there for them, and she will not let that happen to another generation of Americans."
Harris, a former police officer and Los Alamos National Laboratory security worker now receiving disability benefits due to delayed-onset PTSD that he believes was triggered by the Iraq war, said, "Sen. Clinton completely understands the issues." He said he was touched by how strongly she and her husband felt about the issue: "I saw the tears well up in his eyes as he spoke to me."
Today's primaries have become a nail-biter.
An average of eight national polls taken in the past week now shows Clinton only 2.5 percentage points ahead of Barack Obama. The most recent of those eight, a CNN poll of 500 registered Democratic voters taken Friday through Sunday, shows Obama up by 3 points.
Although Clinton had a commanding lead in California for many months, an average of five polls taken in the past week shows Clinton ahead by only 2.6 percentage points in the Golden State. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, apparently seeking to blunt expectations, issued a memo earlier Monday noting, "Based on her huge head start, Hillary Clinton should still win California, but is unlikely to achieve her goal of getting a sizable share of the delegates."
Bill Clinton earlier Monday headlined rallies in Santa Ana, Sacramento and Stockton. Hillary Clinton spent Monday in Connecticut and Massachusetts before heading to New York City for the broadcast.
Obama spent the day in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Mike Gravel, the former U.S. Senator from Alaska who is the only other Democrat remaining in the race, made two appearances Monday in San Francisco.