Hillary Clinton: a New Jerseyan love story | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 14.06.2016
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US elections 2016

Hillary Clinton: a New Jerseyan love story

With its ethnic diversity, the Garden State played a crucial role in securing Hillary Clinton’s nomination. But what do New Jerseyans love about her? Helena Kaschel found some answers.

Asbury Park has seen better days. The small coastal town, immortalized on Bruce Springsteen's first studio album, used to be a popular summer resort for New Yorkers trying to escape the city by enjoying a soda and indulging in the boardwalk's various amusements. That was in the early 20th century. Today, a less glamorous Asbury Park is struggling with a stagnating tourism industry, low wages, rundown buildings and rising crime.

The beach at Asbury Park

Once a thriving tourist magnet, Asbury Park has lost much of its former glory

Despite the town's decline, Rosetta Johnson won't leave. Just a few months ago, she witnessed a shooting right in front of her house. But the 56-year-old who has lived in Asbury Park all her life refuses to be discouraged. These days, Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign is what gives her hope: "We have a vision that one day we'll go back to what we were. Hopefully, if Hillary wins, things will change. I'm dreaming of a port. Anywhere there's water there should be a way for a boat to get to land, right?"

On this hot June day, Johnson's house has turned into a bustling makeshift campaign office. Volunteers randomly walk in and out of the dimly lit living room, some sit on the front porch with lists of names and cellphones pressed to their ears, others gather in the kitchen to grab stacks of stickers and pamphlets before disappearing again into the bright midday sunlight.

Irene Esposito on the phone

Phone banking for Hillary: Irene Esposito wants to make sure New Jerseyans vote for Clinton

Sixty-three-year-old Irene Esposito, who lives in a nearby town, has never volunteered in an election campaign before. This year Hillary Clinton is her only hope, Esposito says, while clutching her phone-banking schedule. "I think she will continue Obama's legacy, and with her husband's experience I think they'll be a great addition to the presidency."

'She understands America'

Today's "Get Out The Vote" event is one of many Rosetta Johnson has organized during the past few weeks to convince locals of voting for Clinton on primary day. Johnson's walls are covered in proud evidence of a life devoted to escaping hardship: awards for civic engagement, certificates of poetry competitions she won, her master's degree in criminal law. Next, she wants to study for a PhD.

Rosetta Johnson

Understanding hardship is what connects her and Clinton, says Rosetta Johnson

For Rosetta Johnson, supporting Hillary Clinton is personal: "I was born in 1960 in the heart of the civil rights movement. When I got my degrees, I went and sat behind a desk at city hall. I rose above poverty through education," she recalls. "When Hillary Clinton got her degree, she went into the urban areas to witness these things for herself. I know she knows the dynamics, she's been down there in the trenches for a long time. She understands America."

Bernie Sanders - a revolutionary Pied Piper?

Clinton's success in New Jersey is in part down to her popularity with ethnic minorities: The East Coast state is affluent, diverse, and densely populated - a fact that could help her in the general election. It is no surprise that her rival Bernie Sanders never stood a realistic chance here. As an African-American woman, Rosetta Johnson has her issues with the Senator from Vermont:

"He's accurate in his dialog, he's accurate in his ideology. But for years and years, it's always been about the disappearance of middle class due to the one percent. It has never been about the poor working class. That's why he doesn't have the black urban vote: We were never counted in his calculations." In Johnson's eyes, Bernie Sanders is a false "Santa Claus," making unrealistic promises and advertising revolutionary reverie.

'Never Trumper' turned Hillary disciple

While Bernie Sanders has been especially popular among Millennials throughout his campaign, the bulk of Hillary Clinton's supporters are beyond the age of 45. The volunteers turning up at Rosetta Johnson's doorstep this summer are no exception. But whatever their age, they all have different reasons for their allegiance.

Robert Hegerich, who works for a large telecommunications company, has not voted for a Democrat in 30 years. "I'm a conservative evangelical Christian who loathes Donald Trump," he says. "This candidate is wrong for America, he's wrong for you in Europe, he's simply the wrong candidate. That's why I'm here as a volunteer."

Robert Hegerich

'Never Trump' - Robert Hegerich has not voted for a Democrat in 30 years

Hegerich is committed to his cause: Lately he has been volunteering for an average of eight hours a day.

'Hillary Clinton is like cod liver oil'

Despite having clinched the Democratic nomination, Clinton faces relatively unpopularity - something she shares with her Republican opponent Donald Trump. Rosetta Johnson is not turning a blind eye to her favorite candidate's flaws.

She hopes the former secretary of state will learn from past mistakes, such as the email controversy. She also agrees that Clinton is not exactly famous for her radiant charisma. "Hillary Clinton," Johnson says, "is like cod liver oil. It might not taste good going down, but it will cure your ills, and it's going to be good for you."

Just as Johnson turns on her TV, the media announce President Barack Obama's expected official endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Rosetta Johnson settles back into her chair, satisfied. "In the end we can say: If we lost, it ain't because we didn't try," she says. "I don't think we should take anything for granted. There's just too much at stake. I know what's good for me. I know Hillary Clinton will be good for America, so I know she's good for me."

A day later, Clinton wins New Jersey and three other states. News agencies call the race and declare her the Democratic Party's nominee - something never achieved by a woman in US history. But for Rosetta Johnson and her fellow New Jersey volunteers, this is only the beginning.

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