In an effort to mobilize Democrats a day before the midterm elections, former President Bill Clinton lent his star power to U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy’s campaign, praising the health care overhaul, federal stimulus and financial bailout.
At least 1,500 people crowded into the Hall of Springs at Saratoga Spa State Park to hear the 42nd president, waiting at least two hours from the time the doors opened to the public before dawn Monday until he took the stage.
In a 20-minute speech, Clinton also said the serious issues facing the country, from childhood obesity to losing jobs overseas, transcend party lines.
“This is not about right and left; this is about tomorrow versus yesterday,” Clinton said.
Yet his speech was partisan enough to whip up support for Democratic candidates, especially incumbents, in a year when anti-incumbent and anti-Democratic fervor is high.
Clinton blamed Republicans for high budget deficits and touted his own reign in office as a prosperous time for the nation.
The audience was friendly to that message, cheering and enthusiastic despite the early hour and long wait.
“My favorite’s when he said, ‘And then they repealed arithmetic,’ ” said Kathleen Sims, a University at Albany graduate student, quoting Clinton referring to GOP policies.
Sims also saw Clinton when he appeared at the Warren County Airport to campaign for Kirsten Gillibrand in 2006 when she first ran for Congress, in the district now represented by Murphy, D-Glens Falls.
Clinton told the crowd that the Murphy event was his 127th campaign stop, and he hadn’t intended to get so involved with the mid-term elections this fall. He gave a similar speech in Watertown soon after leaving Saratoga Springs, stumping for Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.
Voters head to the polls today to elect either Murphy or Republican Chris Gibson, a retired Army colonel from Kinderhook. In a recent Siena Research Institute poll, Gibson led Murphy by 9 percentage points.
Gibson spent Monday campaigning in Delaware and Otsego counties. His spokesman said Gibson would continue to get his message out to voters as Murphy brought the Democratic Party’s most popular member to the district.
“[Gibson] enjoys a large, enthusiastic and energized base of support. By contrast, Scott Murphy lacks that level of enthusiasm among the voters and is therefore bringing in help,” spokesman Dan Odescalchi said in a statement.
The sprawling 10-county district stretches from Poughkeepsie to Lake Placid and as far west as Cooperstown. It includes Saratoga County, and Republicans have a considerable enrollment advantage among residents there.
At least 100 Gibson supporters rallied outside the Hall of Springs on Monday morning as people waited in line to see Clinton.
The picketers broke out chanting at times, including: “One day left! One day left!”
Those in line to see Murphy and Clinton quickly started a “Murphy! Murphy!” chant to counter it.
Inside, loudspeakers pumped out rock music, from The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi to Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas.
Security seemed much lighter than it is for a visit by a sitting president, though police and Secret Service officers were visible and a police dog patrolled the room with its handler.
Local Democratic committee people and other candidates were among those in the crowd, including state Senate candidates Susan Savage and Joanne Yepsen, who greeted their own supporters.
Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee chairman Thilo Ullmann said the local support for Democratic candidates this year has been “comforting.”
“I think we are seeing a tremendous upsurge of interest and enthusiasm,” he said.
During a break when music was played to pump up the crowd before Clinton took the stage, a 59-year-old man fainted and regained consciousness before being taken from the room in a stretcher. State park police said he would be OK.
Clinton took the stage about 8:25 a.m., about 30 minutes after he was scheduled to do so, following speeches by Murphy, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko and Sen. Gillibrand.
Clinton made eye contact with people in the front row and appeared to speak without notes. He wore a black suit and red-and-white striped tie.
At one point he jokingly referred to “a certain Secretary of State — who says ‘hello,’ by the way,” meaning his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Bill Clinton made several references to education and young people, and the comments resonated with Skidmore College seniors Beth Browning and Michelle McInnis.
He talked about new college loan rules that allow students to take more loans and pay them back over 20 years at a fixed rate.
McInnis’ father lost his job during her freshman year, and she considered dropping out of college but was able to take on more loans to pay for tuition.
“Being able to take out loans is a really big deal,” said the 22-year-old from South Carolina.
Browning, 21, said she was happy to hear Clinton talk about issues affecting young people.
Skidmore College students came in a 50-person bus and in their own cars.
It was a Democratic rally that would have been unheard of in Saratoga Springs before 2006, the year Gillibrand first beat out Republican incumbent John Sweeney for the congressional seat Murphy now holds. Sweeney and Gerald Solomon before him kept the district in Republican hands for decades.
Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Larry Bulman reminded the audience of 2006, a momentous year for local Democrats.
“There is a big movement to try to take away what we have in Washington right now,” he said.
Republicans still hold a significant edge in the district over registered Democrats, 41 to 27 percent. Both parties actively court the 24 percent of independent voters and 8 percent who are enrolled in small third parties.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County