LOS ANGELES — Former President Bill Clinton kept a tight focus on policy and largely avoided attacking GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump during a stump speech on behalf of his wife Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Koreatown on Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to a standing-room-only audience at the Garden Suite Hotel, the former president mostly discussed the core issues of the Democratic Party national platform, including immigration reform, affordable higher education and the minimum wage increase.
The afternoon event was billed as an organizing event in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
“It is profoundly important to me and to [Hillary] that she receive overwhelming support in the primary from the AAPI [Asian-American Pacific Islander] community,” Clinton said. “I’d also like to say that this community above all should be leading the U.S. to an integrated, shared future, where we accept our diversity and embrace it as a strength.”
In a veiled dig at Trump, Clinton said that Hillary has “vociferously opposed this effort in our country to demonize Muslim Americans.” He mentioned the December San Bernardino terrorist attacks, and said it was important to remember that the terrorists who committed it had been radicalized over the Internet.
“There are some people who say we need to build a fence across the Rio Grande River,” Clinton said, never mentioning Trump by name. He added that the U.S. could build a wall along the Canadian border, or erect a seawall along the Pacific Coast, but that these solutions would not prevent radical terrorism.
“You still can’t keep the social media out,” he warned.
Clinton also placed repeated emphasis on the benefits of a “stronger middle class” and “upward social mobility,” and said Hillary Clinton was the candidate in the race with the “best ideas.”
On making college tuition more affordable, the former president said that college debt should be converted into a system similar to 20-year mortgages that would limit the amount of money student would have to pay each month. He blasted Sanders’ idea of free college tuition, saying that states like California would not be able to afford to put up the third of the money that the Vermont senator’s plan requires.
Clinton also proposed the creation of a word-study program for college students, in which students could earn money while at school to help pay off debt.
“This will work. Think what this will do. Everyone can move out of their parents’ homes,” he said. “This could liberate the energies of millions and millions of people.”
In a starkly different message from Sanders’ campaign, Clinton sought to downplay the supposed prevalence of racism and sexism in America.
“We’re less racist, sexist and homophobic [than we’ve ever been],” he said toward the end of the roughly 30-minute speech. “We have one remaining bigotry: we don’t want to be near anyone who disagrees with us.”
Clinton was introduced at the event by city Councilman David Ryu and California state Treasurer John Chiang.
“The next leader of the free world needs to be someone who’s tested and ready … Hillary Clinton is that person,” Ryu said to raucous applause. “We need to unite behind Hillary to defeat the politics of hate and fear … Will you join me in denying Trump the White House?”
Clinton’s speech comes as Hillary prepares to attend a series of events in California over the remainder of the week. The candidate will speak at a rally at East Los Angeles College on Thursday afternoon before attending a pair of pricey fundraisers later that evening. On Friday, Clinton will travel to San Francisco for a sold-out fundraiser with actress Elizabeth Banks and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
Bill Clinton will also attend a fundraiser Friday at the Los Angeles home of Sandy and Laura Michelman.
The Clinton campaign opened its first Los Angeles headquarters on Tuesday in advance of the California primary on June 7. A poll released earlier this week found Clinton with a 57-38 lead over Sanders among registered California voters.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum