Pantsuit Up! Caucusing for Hillary in Kansas

Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at Cuyahoga Community College Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally at Cuyahoga Community College Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

On March 5, hundreds of us lined up to enter the gym in central Topeka, Kansas, where my now 33-year-old daughter attended middle school. My long line of already registered voters was not nearly as long as the parallel line of young people registering to vote, and erstwhile Republicans switching to the Democratic Party to caucus for Bernie Sanders.

The young man ahead of me sported a beard and a slouchy hat. I asked him if he was caucusing for Bernie. "Was it the hat or the beard or my age that gave it away?" he laughed.

I told him I was there to caucus for Hillary, but if Bernie were the nominee, I would support him, of course. He made me no such promise for Hillary.

In the Landon Middle School gym Hillary supporters crowded the bleachers on one side. Bernie supporters filled the opposite-side bleachers and spilled onto the gymnasium floor. The Bernie supporters yelled, "Feel the Bern!" We Hillary supporters chanted "Madame President," and, as we clapped, shouted, "It's About Time!"

The numbers swelled beyond fire code. Joan Wagnon, former Topeka mayor, state legislator, and cabinet secretary under Republican and Democratic governors, led Hillary supporters into the cooler auditorium. In that condensed space, we clearly showed ourselves to be an older demographic. Wagnon introduced various political office holders, who spoke as we waited for those still in line to finish the check-in process.

One of the last speakers, Nancy Kirk, used to be my neighbor and my state legislator. She is now a member of the Topeka school board. She said she wanted to ask the Bernie supporters: "Do you remember 1972?"

I certainly do, as that was the first time I was able to vote in a presidential election. At 22, I was voting with the 18-year-olds who had just gained the right to vote in 1971, so was annoyed I had had to wait. I voted for George McGovern, natch, and, living then as I do now, in a virtual Democrat bubble, was certain he would win. Nancy Kirk recalled that McGovern was saying all the right things in 1972, but despite visionary rhetoric, he won only one state, plus the District of Columbia.

It's "déjà vu all over again," complained Kirk.

We called out our numbers, rotating row by row, a method as quaint as it was inefficient. For accuracy's sake, we did two counts. The final: 371 for Hillary. The Bernie supporters exited the gymnasium, all 867 of them, including our 19-year-old son, who had returned to Shawnee County with his college roommate to support the 74-year-old Senator, considered by Millennials to be the more revolutionary candidate.

I felt "déjà vu all over again" for a second reason. On a snowy night in 2008, I crowded into my son's middle school to caucus for Hillary. On my exit, I poached an Obama button and switched allegiance. All the excitement and electricity were with Obama, and I considered him more electable than Hillary, and I wanted to win.

I do not consider the Vermont Senator more electable than the former Secretary of State. This time I am supporting the candidate I believe will get the most done once in office. I'm supporting the candidate with less fiery rhetoric, who can implement incremental change, the only way social change occurs, invocations to "revolution" notwithstanding. The potent symbolism of having the first female president seems lost on most Millennials, while it is not on Boomers, who have lived to see a black man in the presidency, but would like to see a woman in the highest office. "It's about time!" as we chanted.

If I had doubts about whether to support Hillary or Bernie, they vanished the night I watched a CNN Town Hall when a University of South Carolina law student leaning toward Bernie but whose mother supports Hillary, asked the former First Lady what she thinks causes the generational gap between her supporters and those of Sen. Sanders.

Hillary said frankly she didn't know the cause, but said, "Whether you end up supporting me or not, I will support you."

The young woman said she is concerned with student debt, and halfway through law school, has accumulated $75,000 worth of it. Hillary told her to refinance her debt at a lower interest rate than the 7-9 percent she currently owes, and pay back her loan using a contingency repayment program. She said she does not agree with Sen. Sanders about free college tuition as she believes people with the financial means to do so, like herself, should pay tuition to colleges on behalf of their children. But she also said there should be no interest on student loans, that the government should not be making money off student debt.

Although Hillary's supporters were largely older at the Kansas caucus, there were also some young folks, including a worker with the Hillary campaign, who wore a red T-shirt with the slogan "Pantsuit Up!" on the back. And although Hillary did not prevail last Saturday in Kansas -- the final AP count was 26,450 for Sanders and 12,593 for Clinton -- scuttlebutt had it that 500 new Democrats registered that afternoon at our site. I hope those young voters will line up behind Hillary should she garner the nomination.

Although they may not see it now, a woman in the White House would be truly revolutionary.