Former President Clinton draws a crowd, and then some, to Atwood Hall at Clark U.

President Bill Clinton shakes hands outside Atwood Hall. President Bill Clinton shakes hands outside Atwood Hall.

A bouquet of umbrellas sprouted outside Clark University’s Atwood Hall two hours before former President Bill Clinton was scheduled to arrive there. Before long, the line of umbrellas stretched beyond the Goddard Library, as people patiently waited in a steady rain for the chance to see Clinton take the stage to speak on behalf of Democratic nominee for Massachusetts governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Many got their wish, as every seat was filled and every wall space had a body leaning against it while a roster of speakers took the podium to rally support for Coakley in her campaign against Republican candidate Charles Baker. The rally was sponsored by the Coakley campaign, who rented Atwood Hall, in collaboration with the student-run organization Democrats of Clark University. Those who were turned away at the door could watch the event livestreamed in Jefferson 320.

President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Martha Coakley talk outside Atwood Hall. President Clinton and Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley talk outside Atwood Hall.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, Sen. Ed Markey, and Gov. Deval Patrick were among those offering a prelude to the main attraction.

When Coakley took the microphone to urge supporters to get out the vote, she promised “a special guest” would soon be arriving. A few minutes later she introduced Clinton, who walked on stage as the cheering crowd leaped to its feet, thrusting their hands in the air to snap photos and shoot video on their smartphones and tablets the way an earlier generation would have raised cigarette lighters at a rock concert. A crowd of Boston and Worcester-area TV and print media perched on a platform in the rear of the auditorium to capture the proceedings in a blast of flashbulbs and whirring cameras.

“I love this place,” Clinton said of the city he has visited a number of times. “It’s not an election unless I come to Worcester.”

Clinton laughingly compared himself to “an old race horse” who is brought back onto the track during campaign season. “Hillary will be coming up [to Massachusetts] in a few days,” he said. “You’ll like that better.”

Every election is a job interview, he told the audience, one that requires voters to assess the experience and performance of the candidates. Ultimately, he said, a candidate should be judged by three basic criteria: are people better off than when he or she started in office; do children have a brighter future; and are things coming together instead of being torn apart.

Clinton said universal early childhood education is one of the most important issues facing the nation. He noted that when his own newly born granddaughter is ready to enter kindergarten, she will have already heard three million more words in her young life than a child of the same age who has been on a waiting list for educational services.

Before departing the stage, Clinton noted that it typically takes 10 years to recover from a financial crash, and the United States is emerging strongly in less time than that. But, he cautioned, the nation needs to ensure that “prosperity is more widely shared” among various income groups.

Once he left Atwood Hall, Clinton immediately walked to a line of waiting people, shaking hands and smiling for photos.

Clinton is the third sitting or former U.S. president to visit the Clark University campus. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the address at Clark’s first-ever public commencement ceremony, and in 1990 former President Gerald Ford delivered a lecture to students and faculty.

Coincidentally, the former president is the third member of the Clinton family to visit Clark in recent years. During Hillary Clinton's 2008 Democratic primary run against Barack Obama, Chelsea Clinton made a campaign stop at Clark in support of her mother's candidacy. Eleven days later, Hillary Clinton addressed supporters at the Kneller Athletic Center.

Below are links to some of the media coverage of the Clinton visit to Clark:

 — Jim Keogh, Assistant Vice President of News and Editorial Services