EAST CHICAGO | U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton received a rock star welcome from a gymnasium of supporters Friday night as she made her third swing through the region in four weeks.
Talking about issues like foreign currency manipulation and universal health insurance, the New York Democrat was interrupted several times by chants of adoration from supporters.
"I will remember this night in this gymnasium in East Chicago, Indiana," Clinton told the crowd of more than 3,000 at East Chicago Central High. "And we will look back at this night and say, this is where it began."
She was just three days removed from her ten-point victory in Pennsylvania's primary over U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, her opponent for the democratic party's nomination for the presidency.
Obama has more votes, more delegates and more campaign cash. Observers were speculating just Monday that a weak finish in Pennsylvania could have ended Clinton's 15-month run for the White House.
Instead, her campaign has been trying to push the message that "the tide is changing."
"Change is just a word unless you have the strength and experience to make it happen," Clinton said, referencing the central theme of "change" in Obama's campaign.
Amanda McKinney, a Munster native who lives in Illinois, said she entered Friday's event a skeptic and left as a believer.
"I thought it was very informative. It wasn't just about charm and charisma," McKinney said, officially renouncing her former support for Obama.
The rip-roaring gymnasium crowd was different from Clinton's somber reception at Gary's McBride Hall, where a group of more than 100 steelworkers did more folding of arms than waving of signs.
Blanca Morales, a self-proclaimed East Chicago "woman of steel" and member of Local 3657, asked Clinton "with all due respect" why she should get her vote.
Morales did not hear the magic words she was looking for.
"I'm not convinced yet. I have to listen to both," Morales said. "If I had to vote today, I'd still be torn."
Not so for Lenny Gillis, a Lake Station steelworker with Local 1014.
"Our jobs are quite literally, daily, on the line here," Gillis said. "If she executes like I believe she will, I don't think we'll have to worry."
An even more intimate and conflicted audience awaited the senator at her first Northwest Indiana stop of the day: the Bennigan's bar and grill on Fifth Avenue in downtown Gary.
Her entrance was preceded with whispers of "Is it her? Is it her?" from expectant observers in the bar, as other diners in the main restaurant complained openly about the sudden crush of reporters, Secret Service agents, and 25-foot boom mikes.
Betsy Cowan of Schererville, a campaign volunteer in Clinton's Hammond office, thanked her for signing two autographs and said, "We're working hard for you, senator."
"Thank you, we're going to need it," Clinton said.
The senator was escorted into the restaurant by Gary Mayor Rudy Clay, the Lake County Democratic chairman who has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama.
"I thought it was appropriate to give her the respect," Clay said. "This presidential campaign is like nothing I've seen in my lifetime, and I don't think I'll see anything like it again."