Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), sporting a Terry Bradshaw Steelers jersey, introduces… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
PITTSBURGH – Stumping in a state considered safe for the Democrats until recently, Bill Clinton rallied a midday crowd in western Pennsylvania for Barack Obama, calling the president a unifier who will continue an economic recovery across the country.
“Who’s more likely to restore the middle class?” he asked the crowd in Pittsburgh’s Market Square. “I think it’s the candidate that got off the campaign trail and went to work on Hurricane Sandy with Republicans and Democrats.”
“If you saw President Obama working with Democratic governors of New York and Connecticut, the Republican governor of New Jersey, the independent mayor of New York City – who just endorsed him by the way – you saw the guy who left the door open for the Republicans for four years, and they wouldn’t walk through,” he said. “But when you reelect the president tomorrow, they will walk through that door.”
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As Clinton spoke, volunteers for the Obama campaign stood on the outskirts of the rally, holding clipboards, hoping to sign up volunteers to canvass and make phone calls in Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes and is crucial to the Obama campaign. In 64 years, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania. In 2008, Obama won the state by 600,000 votes, buoyed by strong turnout in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as the state’s eastern suburbs.
Obama was up by double digits at some points this summer, but his lead has slipped to just 3.9 percentage points, according to an average of polls conducted by Real Clear Politics.
The Romney campaign has tried to take advantage of these slipping numbers, and Romney held a rally in a Philadelphia suburb Sunday, his first visit to the state since September.
“People of America understand, we’re taking back the White House because we’re going to win Pennsylvania,” he told the crowd in Morrisville. Obama last visited the state in July.
As a surrogate for Obama, Clinton used much of his 18-minute speech to criticize Romney over his answer in the debates about whether he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and his advertisements implying that Chrysler was moving Jeep production from Ohio to China, an allegation that Chrysler has denied. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have run ads in Ohio about this issue.
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“When this guy gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he thinks, ‘What the heck, I’ve got Karl Rove and the Koch brothers and all this secret money,’ he just digs down deeper in the cookie jar,” Clinton said. “You cannot afford to have a president who will deliberately misrepresent the truth to the working people of America to scare them just to get a few votes,” he said, a line that got some of the biggest cheers of the afternoon.
Clinton also criticized Romney’s plan for Medicare and tax cuts for high-income Americans, touting Obama’s positions on funding for Pell grants and his healthcare bill. He also did some old-fashioned pandering to the people of Pittsburgh, praising them for turning their city around. He closed with praise for Obama, whom he has mended his relationship with – at least publicly – since the divisive primaries of 2008.
“I’d rather have the guy who brought us back from the brink of depression, has led us into the future, has gotten us in the move, has gotten a better economic plan, a better education plan, a better healthcare plan, a plan that will produce millions of millions of jobs in the 21st century,” he said as the crowd, huddled in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s castle-like PPG building, cheered and waved blue “Forward” signs. “Tomorrow, if you vote your hopes and not your fears, if you vote for unity and not division, if you think we can all go together, you will reelect Barack Obama president.”
Clinton appeared with Sen. Bob Casey, who is facing a reelection battle in Pennsylvania. He is expected to win, though his lead has been narrowing as he has been outspent 2 to 1 by opponent Tom Smith. Labor leaders Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, and Leo Gerard, head of the United Steel Workers, also appeared at the rally.
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Last year at this time, Trumka was just one state over in Ohio, battling a bill that would have limited collective bargaining rights for public employees. Unions ultimately overturned the bill in an initiative, winning by a 2-1 ratio thanks to heavy canvassing turnout by union workers. Pennsylvania did not have any such rallying event, though the AFL-CIO has said that 7,500 union volunteers in the state had made more than a million phone calls, knocked on 700,000 doors and passed out 1.5 million fliers.
But the crowd, which city police estimated at 5,800 but seemed much smaller, had little interest in the union speeches or the people running for election now. They wanted Clinton, who finally appeared onstage as Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” blasted from the loudspeakers.
“I just love Clinton,” said Jamie Herron, 59, a bank worker from Pittsburgh who plans to vote for Obama on Tuesday.
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