Former president Bill Clinton visits Palatka

It may have been short notice, but former President Bill Clinton’s visit to Palatka ignited a burst of enthusiasm local officials hope will lead to a larger turnout in today’s election. 

Clinton – campaigning for his wife and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton – spent about 30 minutes at the Putnam County Government Complex in Palatka on Saturday. 

After disembarking from the massive black bus that bears his wife’s name and logo, former President Clinton spent his time in Palatka shaking hands, posing for pictures with the hundreds of people who were in attendance and hobnobbing with local elected officials. 

The 42nd president stopped by Palatka in between engagements in Gainesville and Jacksonville, but while here, he received the key to the city of Palatka. 

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Palatka to gain some exposure,” said Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill, who presented Clinton with the key. “I think it’s great for our citizens to get motivated. I think it will boost turnout so far. We’re looking forward to more people coming out.”

Clinton’s Palatka visit occurred about an hour-and-a-half before early voting in the general election ended. 

After 13 days of early voting, 13,868 Putnam residents cast their votes in Crescent City, Interlachen and Palatka polling locations, according to the Supervisor of Elections Office. The office also reported receiving 6,411 mail ballots and 18 provisional ballots, as of Monday afternoon. 

While state election officials have reported high turnout for early voting, Clinton spent Saturday trying to get voters to the polls in the waning hours of early voting and throughout the day today. 

Local resident Ashley Floyd voted earlier Saturday but returned to the government complex after learning she could meet the former president. 

Floyd said it was an honor to meet Clinton, especially since she didn’t think a president would visit a town like Palatka. Hopefully, she said, his visit would result in more people voting, because there is too much at stake to fall victim to voter apathy. 

“It’s kind of exciting – to be a very small city that no one really hears about,” she said about Clinton’s visit.

Although Clinton’s schedule was busy, he wanted to visit Putnam County, if possible, said state Senate candidate Rod Smith, who was in Palatka with Clinton. 

“One of the things the president was hoping to do was come to Palatka,” Smith said. “I know that it’ll add excitement to the election. It’s not every day that a president of the United States visits a community like ours.”

Clinton’s visit to Palatka came as a surprise to many people, with some not knowing he had been in the area until after he was gone. 

County Commissioner Chairman Chip Laibl said he didn’t know Clinton would be in the area until about 2:30 p.m. Saturday. 

Laibl said the visit would likely do wonders for voter turnout – especially among Democrats. But Laibl said his favorite part of the visit was seeing how much meeting Clinton meant to members of his family. 

“I’ll tell you the most inspiring thing – watching my mother-in-law,” Laibl said. “And she’s a loyal Democrat. She’s got the biggest smile on her.”