Former President Clinton speaks at a "Hoosier Common Sense"… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)
INDIANAPOLIS -- The crowd of 3,000 mostly loyal Democrats was freshly energized off of Vice President Joe Biden’s feisty debate performance Thursday night, but it wasn’t the presidential race that drew former President Clinton to an Indianapolis rally Friday.
While President Obama has all but conceded Indiana’s 11 electoral votes to his Republican rival, Democrats think they have a shot at a Senate seat that could help determine control of the chamber.
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly and Republican state treasurer Richard Mourdock are in a close battle for the seat currently held by Sen. Richard Lugar, who had been considered a shoo-in for reelection before he was defeated by Mourdock in the GOP primary earlier this year.
Clinton headlined the rally with a dual mission: Fire up loyal Democrats and appeal to independents who might be swayed to vote for Donnelly. While he was joined on stage by Donnelly, former Sen. Evan Bayh, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, the signs distributed to supporters read “Hoosier Common Sense,” and made no mention of the Democratic Party or the presidential ticket. Clinton, too, avoided casting the November choice as Democrats vs. Republicans.
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“When you know you have more yesterdays than tomorrows, it sort of simplifies and clarifies life,” Clinton said. “And I think about all that matters is whether people are better off than when you started, whether children have a brighter future, and whether things are coming together or being torn apart. The rest of it’s all background noise.”
Like he did during his speech to the Democratic National Convention, Clinton scolded Republicans for failing to understand budgetary “arithmetic.” And he insisted that the bailout of the auto industry was the “best thing” the Obama administration has done.
“Constructive cooperation works better than constant conflict,” he said. “Shared prosperity works better than trickle down. We’re all in it together works better than you’re on your own. It’s what works.”
But he focused most of his time on the Senate race.
Tapping into lingering resentment over Mourdock’s defeat of Lugar, Indiana’s longest serving senator, Clinton repeatedly praised Lugar for his willingness to work with Democrats.
Lugar is a “bona fide conservative,” he said, but “when the interests of the country were on the line, we got together and we worked together.” Lugar, he said, “made this country a safer, stronger place.”
That message was meant for voters like Deb Howson, an independent from Greenwood, who said she hadn’t decided who to support in the Senate race.
“I was a huge Lugar supporter,” Howson said. “I thought he did a lot of good for the state.”
Clinton also riffed on a comment Mourdock made earlier this year, that his idea of bipartisanship “ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
“What is this idea that it’s my way or the highway?” Clinton said. “I was raised to believe that nobody’s right all the time. Now, maybe Mr. Mourdock is, I don’t know. He’s way right all the time, I know that.”