Hillary Clinton soaked up the love Thursday night in Vernon Hills — and relished being back home in Illinois.
“I have friends literally going back to kindergarten, some of them are here tonight,” Clinton said, noting that she grew up not too far away, in Park Ridge.
“They promised not to tell you everything they know about me,” she joked.
Clinton arrived at a community center gymnasium just shy of 9 p.m., about 90 minutes late, to the adoring screams of crowd numbering about 800.
“This turnout tonight I think shows you all know what’s at stake,” she said.
A long line of people still waited outside to get in as she talked about creating jobs, expanding green energy, raising the minimum wage, expanding health care and enacting gun control measures.
“I’m asking if you will go and vote for me, stand up for me. I will do everything I can . . . to stand against the demagoguery, and the comments, the rhetoric that is coming out of the Republicans, particularly their leading candidate,” Clinton said. “You know, when you run for president, it matters what you say. People around the world watch us so closely; they listen to what is being said. They make decisions based on that.
“In the last weeks I’ve been getting messages from a lot of the leaders that I know from around the world, and the message is
basically, ‘What is happening?’ ” she said.
Jeanne Engelkemeir, a French teacher from Mundelein, played with the adjustable arms of a tiny plastic Clinton doll wearing a blue pantsuit as she stood in front of the line that began forming about 3 p.m. She brought a red Sharpie marker, too, for Clinton to autograph her tiny self.
“I love Hillary Clinton and I feel like it is definitely her time,” Engelkemeir said. “See has got the experience and the knowledge and the ability to bring all peoples together, to get us moving continually forward as a society.”
Engelkemeir, along with more than 1,000 other supporters, waited up to three hours in a line that stretched several hundred yards to get into the event.
Campaign staffers revved up the crowd by running up and down their ranks with a cardboard cutout of Clinton.
“I like Bernie, but I don’t see how he’s electable,” said Joy Hail, an attorney from Mundelein.
“I think she’d be able to deliver,” said Lorraine Patterson, a retired hospital worker from North Chicago. “I like Bernie’s ideas, a lot of them, but I don’t think they’re realistic.”
“I came tonight because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see, potentially, the first woman president,” said Jackie Lanscioni, 44, a stay-at-home mom from Vernon Hills.
Clinton’s campaign is running a full court press before Illinois’ primary on Tuesday.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was in Chicago on Tuesday campaigning for his wife.
Clinton, who grew up in Park Ridge, holds a commanding lead over her opponent, Bernie Sanders, in the latest Illinois polls.
Sanders is scheduled to arrive in Illinois on Friday to hold a rally at Argo Community High School in west suburban Summit. And the Sanders campaign is set to air three new campaign commercials in Illinois beginning Friday.
Before flying into Illinois on Thursday evening, Clinton campaigned in North Carolina and Florida. She planned to leave Thursday night for California, where she’ll attend former first lady Nancy Reagan’s funeral on Friday, a campaign aide said.
Tom Wille, 38, who works in sales, attended the rally with his wife and two kids, who just wanted to observe. “I’m a Bernie guy,” he said. “But you see these events on TV, and when they’re in your own backyard, you owe it to yourself to go check it out. Bernie is believable. He may be reaching for the stars, but that’s OK.”
The event also served as a civics lesson of sorts for his son Keemy, 7, and daughter, Ari, 4, whose cheeks were rosy after waiting in line more than two hours with their dad.