Former President Clinton makes the sign of the anteater, the UC Irvine mascot,… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Former President Clinton used a Tuesday night appearance in Irvine to rip Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and GOP congressional leaders for putting America's middle class, women's rights and the country's environmental health at risk, and urged Californians to send Democrats to Washington in next month's election.
Clinton fired up the young, friendly crowd at UC Irvine during a campus rally for five Democrats locked in tight congressional races in Southern California.
"It's very important to realize that, particularly in California, because you are the state of the future.… It's really important that we get the best Congress we can to make the most of the next four years and to turn back the reactionary tide," Clinton told a cheering crowd of 5,000 students and other supporters.
Shawn Singh, a 21-year-old business major from Anaheim Hills, didn't know or really care about any of the congressional candidates. He wanted to hear the former president speak.
"He's one of the most charismatic people alive," said Singh, an independent who says he plans to vote for President Obama. "I don't think Mitt Romney can relate. He can't relate to real people."
Clinton has been hopscotching across the nation for weeks, campaigning for Obama and Democratic congressional candidates to help energize the party's base. That's especially true in California, a state he won handily during his two presidential runs and visited 29 times during his first term.
Clinton spoke for just more than 30 minutes, spending most of his time skewering Romney and praising the five Democrats that shared the stage with him: Julia Brownley of Ventura, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Scott Peters of San Diego, Raul Ruiz of Coachella and Mark Takano of Riverside.
The biggest applause came when Clinton said that a Democratic Congress would keep federal college loans affordable and ensure that climate change and other environmental concerns could not be ignored by Republicans who believe more in "ideology than evidence."
Clinton locked hands with all five candidates at the end of the rally, as "It's a Beautiful Day" by U2 blared over the loudspeakers inside the campus event hall.
Brownley praised the former president for leaving the nation with a budget surplus and working across the aisles with Republicans. She warned that the "Tea Party and their allies want to take us backward" on abortion rights and equal opportunity for women.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sponsored the event as it works nationwide to pick up 25 additional congressional seats and recapture control of the House from the Republicans. The Democrats hopes to nab six to eight seats in California alone because of the state's redrawn political boundaries and a new primary election system — a projection the National Republican Congressional Committee has called "delusional."
Still, the Democrats have a chance to pick up 10 seats nationwide, and a net gain of two or three seats in California, said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Wasserman said the Democrats' two strongest chances of picking up seats in former GOP territory are in the wide-open Riverside race where Takano, an openly gay high school teacher and community college trustee, is running against Republican Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione; and the hotly contested race on the outskirts of Sacramento, where Democrat Ami Bera is challenging Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River).
Voter turnout will be the wild card. The Democrats' strong statewide edge in voter registration could be muted by the absence of a major draw at the top of the ticket — Obama is expected to win easily in California — to attract people to the polls, Wasserman said.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, a top member of the Republican House leadership, said the GOP may pick up one or two seats in California.
He criticized the opposition leadership for bringing Clinton to Irvine, far away from the congressional districts where his presence may have helped rally Democratic voters.
"I don't think it'll have any effect because he's not going to individual districts," McCarthy said. "I would have used Clinton differently. I would have pinpointed a couple seats."
Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this report.