reporting from san jose — Appearing before thousands of people at a San Jose rally Sunday, former President Clinton brought the contest for California governor to Republican Meg Whitman's doorstep, imploring Democrats to turn out the vote and elect his onetime presidential rival, Jerry Brown, to the state's highest office.
Clinton recalled Brown's terms as governor, Oakland mayor and attorney general, praising him for passing the country's first energy efficiency standards for appliances and launching green-energy initiatives.
"He has always been on the side of positive change," Clinton said. "He cares enough to want to be governor again.... Any time he's ever had a job like this, he's held down costs and increased benefits."
Clinton encouraged California's youth to use social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to urge people to vote, casting Democrats as the party of the future and Republicans as the party of the past.
"There's a reason people think the Democrats are going to lose all these House seats. And the reason is you," Clinton said, describing the historic turnout of young voters in 2008. "All these polls are predicated on the assumption that tomorrow's America voted in 2008 but yesterday's America will vote in 2010.
"I have watched for 30 years the assault on the American dream and I am sick and tired of it and I want you back on the future team," Clinton said, pounding the lectern.
The former president's message was simply distilled on two video screens at the San Jose State Event Center Arena: "When Democrats Vote, Democrats Win!"
Earlier in the day, Clinton had said at an event in Napa Valley that a mixture of voter apathy and conservative anger could have broad impact, turning back Democrats' gains in Washington and stalling economic progress under the Obama administration.
At the San Jose rally, Brown attacked Whitman in an allusion to her poor voting record as well as her lack of government experience.
"If you went to any business in America and said, 'Here's my resume. It's blank,' they wouldn't hire you for even the littlest position," Brown said.
He also attacked Whitman, as he has in the past, for her plan to eliminate the state capital gains tax, a move she says would spur investment and create jobs. He said the proposal would give wealthy Californians "a complete and total pass" while reducing revenue for government services and public education.
And he mocked the billionaire former EBay head for her refusal to say how much she would benefit from the elimination of the tax.
"Maybe somebody stole her tax returns like somebody stole her mail," he said, a reference to the controversy over Whitman's former employment of an illegal immigrant housekeeper. Whitman has said she didn't know the woman was undocumented and at one time suggested that the maid, who sorted the household mail, intercepted letters from the Social Security Administration to avoid detection.
With both Whitman and GOP Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina calling Silicon Valley home, the rally's location put an exclamation point on what has become a sort of Democratic no-surrender tour this year. The rally came as the gubernatorial race entered its final two weeks, the contest locked in a close heat with recent polls giving Brown an edge.
Whitman took Sunday off, following a four-day bus tour of California. After relying on professionally produced events with hand-picked crowds for most of the campaign, the Republican has recently been doing what is known as retail politics, visiting local diners and fast-food restaurants to make her closing argument to voters face-to-face.
But her campaign said Clinton's praise for Brown was merely that of a loyal Democrat and distributed a video of Whitman being praised by Clinton at a 1998 White House event for her work at EBay.
"If it weren't for his party affiliation, Bill Clinton wouldn't have anything to do with Jerry Brown," said spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera. "In the past, President Clinton recognized Meg Whitman's leadership, because the reality is that she led one of California's true success stories, and created thousands of new jobs."
Clinton's visit and one planned by President Obama on Friday underscored how embattled Democrats feel in the blue state of California.
A number of Democrats, including Brown at the top of the ticket, face competitive races despite their lopsided voter registration advantage, fueled in part by the country's anti-incumbent mood and the state's chronic budget woes.
Sunday's rally wrapped Clinton's weekend swing through the state. On Friday, he stumped for Brown and lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom as well as for Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the Orange County Democrat who is facing a strong challenge from Republican Assemblyman Van Tran of Garden Grove.
Earlier on Sunday, when Clinton visited the city of Napa, in the heart of California wine country, he addressed hundreds of supporters at the invitation of Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, who is expected to coast to a seventh term in Congress.