LOS ANGELES AND SACRAMENTO — Former President Clinton campaigned across Southern California on Friday, urging Democrats to shake off their moribund mind-set and head to the polls so the Obama administration can finish the job it started.
Clinton told thousands of listeners at an evening rally at UCLA that they bear responsibility for the nation's future.
"It is not enough to have voted for a new president if you will not help him govern and stick behind the members of Congress who stood for him," Clinton said as a light drizzle began to fall. "I am pleading with you, you need to go out and tell everyone who is not here tonight that any college student in the state of California that doesn't vote in this election is committing malpractice on your own future."
Kicking off a string of high-profile appearances by political surrogates in California, Clinton campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom, who is running for lieutenant governor, at UCLA, and, earlier, for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) in Santa Ana. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will rally Republicans in Anaheim on Saturday, the same day Sen. John McCain campaigns with GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina in San Diego. Next Friday, Obama is scheduled to rally supporters at USC.
Brown's GOP rival, Meg Whitman, said Clinton's appearance in blue-leaning California shows the desperate straits Democrats face.
"We're seeing more Democrats come to California than we've seen in many years," she told reporters after mingling with voters at an In-N-Out Burger in suburban Sacramento.
"Clearly, there's a battle going on here.... It's going to be a real fight to the end."
Clinton, who lavished praise on Brown's tenure as governor, Oakland mayor and attorney general, ridiculed Whitman's proposal to eliminate the state capital gains tax, her shifting position on the state's landmark climate change law and her pledge to reduce the state workforce by 40,000, saying they will harm the next generation of Californians.
"Why would you do it?" he said at UCLA. "That's choosing the present over the future."
More broadly, he questioned the values of the candidates on the GOP ticket.
"I've lived my life and I've lived my dreams and I grew up in an America with a strong and swelling middle class, and a very poor person in this country thought their kids could get out of poverty through an education, through a job and through the future," Clinton said. "Everyone who's running for something has achieved something in life. The question is, who's more likely to give the same chance to everyone else?"
He also echoed the frustrations of national Democrats who argue that they need more time to overcome eight years of GOP policies.
"We're in a big hole and we couldn't get you out in 21 months, but we did stop digging," Clinton said. "We're moving out of this because we're focused on the future, dealing with the big things. All we're asking for is two more years. You gave them eight years to dig this hole, you at least ought to give us four years to get out of it."
Earlier in the day, the rally in Santa Ana underscored the importance of an Orange County congressional seat in the battle for control of the House of Representatives.
Sanchez is the only Democratic member of Congress from Orange County; she faces a strong challenge from Republican Assemblyman Van Tran, also of Garden Grove, in a race that both major national parties are trying hard to win.
Brown and Clinton have a fraught history, dating to their tangle in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. Whitman used 1992 debate clips of Clinton slamming Brown's tax record and character in an ad she aired earlier this year.
Frustrated by the ad, which relied partly on an inaccurate report, Brown lashed out, calling Clinton dishonest and joking about his dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Brown quickly apologized, and Clinton endorsed him soon after.
Both men have said that their past is forgotten and they have a common cause, but on Friday the Whitman campaign had some fun with the matter, premiering a six-minute movie called "The Way We Were: Starring Jerry & Bill," at a downtown Los Angeles theatre. It featured scathing footage of the two men attacking each other.
Whitman herself had some kind words for Clinton's two-term tenure.
"I think there were many good things about Bill Clinton's presidency. He was a big EBay buyer. He bought a lot of his Clinton memorabilia on EBay," Whitman said. "So I think there were many good things about his presidency, but he's obviously out here because he's a Democrat, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and he's trying to help Democrats across the country."
Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this report.