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SOUTH PORTLAND — Former President Bill Clinton on Sunday concluded a three-state New England campaign swing to rally Maine Democrats for the upcoming gubernatorial and congressional elections.
Clinton spoke for about 40 minutes at the Southern Maine Community College athletic center, covering topics from the economy to health care to voter anger that appears to be fueling the tea party movement.
The visit came in the wake of recent polls showing Democrat Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell trailing Republican front-runner Paul LePage by as much as 18 points in the race for the Blaine House.
Clinton told the crowd of about 1,500 supporters that Democrats, including President Barack Obama, are not getting enough credit for their achievements over the last two years.
Those achievements, which have come despite steadfast opposition from Republicans, include reforms of health care, the financial industry, credit card rules and student loans.
“I want to give you some ammunition for the people who aren’t here tonight,” Clinton said.
Clinton, who also campaigned in Connecticut and Massachusetts, was the last speaker to take the stage. He was preceded by U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, Gov. John Baldacci and Mitchell.
Mitchell received Clinton’s endorsement during the Democratic gubernatorial primary and stumped for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.
Michaud implored the crowd to remember the excitement and enthusiasm of the 2008 contest that galvanized Democrats and independents alike, while Pingree said she wanted to wake up on Nov. 3 knowing the state had elected its first woman governor.
All the speakers hammered on one central theme: the Republican Party has been taken over by extremists who want to return to the economic policies of former President George W. Bush.
Clinton, who reminded attendees about the budgetary surpluses incurred during his presidency, said the rapid job growth during that time was a result of reversing trickle-down economics, where tax cuts for the wealthy supposedly spur job growth.
“Their economic theory that all you have to do is get rid of all the regulations and cut all the taxes on the wealthiest Americans does not work,” he said.
While much of Clinton’s speech was filled with detailed economic analysis, including a barrage of statistics, it contained a few zingers as well, mostly regarding the slate of candidates being bolstered by the tea party.
“Of course, they have that wrestling federation lady (Linda McMahon in Connecticut) and they got that witchcraft lady (Christine O’Donnell) in Delaware,” Clinton said to laughter and applause. “So far, they’ve gathered everyone for this tea party but the Mad Hatter.”
The jab came after Mitchell referred to LePage, though not by name, as “the tea party candidate.”
“We will not let our state be destroyed by the tea party,” Mitchell said.
Clinton, however, told Democrats not to trivialize the anger and frustration felt by many Americans, who are anxious about the economy, their jobs and their mortgages.
Clinton said Americans have the right to be angry, but should harness that emotion and not be driven by it.
“Every time you make a decision when you’re real mad there’s an 80 percent chance you’re going to make a mistake,” he said. “Let (anger) clarify, not cloud, your judgement.”
Americans must be reminded, he said, that Democrats have been in power for less than two years and the full effects of their economic policies have yet to bear fruit.
Meanwhile, it took Republicans eight years to turn record surpluses to deficits, he said.
Clinton said Mitchell is the only gubernatorial candidate who will take the state where it needs to go, citing honesty, integrity and a life-long commitment to education as some of her attributes. Mitchell is also better positioned to help small businesses, address the mortgage crisis, promote green technology and improve infrastructure, he said.
“I think that Libby Mitchell is a truly unique person,” Clinton said after noting he knows all of the great leaders of the 21st century. “She is profoundly a good person. She’s smart as a whip and she plays well with others. She works with people to get stuff done.”
Clinton, however, reminded the crowd that it will take more than the party faithful to elect Mitchell, a seeming nod to the importance of gaining the support of independents.
“What you need to do is get people who aren’t here cheering to go and vote for Libby Mitchell,” he said.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org