Former President Bill Clinton slammed Republicans Friday for their stewardship of the economy during their years in power in Washington, and said the party's campaign message heading into the 2010 midterm elections is: "Put us in because the Democrats didn't fix what we did to you in 21 months."
Clinton appeared at a packed Staten Island campaign rally on behalf of first term Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon, one of a handful of House Democrats across New York thought to be vulnerable in November.
McMahon represents New York's 10th Congressional district, which covers Staten Island, the most Republican-leaning of New York City's five boroughs. Michael Grimm and Michael Alegretti are vying in the state's Sept. 14 primary for the GOP nomination to challenge McMahon.
With Democrats facing potentially steep losses in both the House and Senate this fall, Clinton has emerged as one of the party's top campaign surrogates, especially in swing districts like McMahon's. The former president was credited with helping to elect a Democrat, Mark Critz, in a special election in Pennsylvania's largely blue collar 12th Congressional district and for boosting Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln, who withstood a tough primary challenge in June. He is heading back to Arkansas, his home state, to campaign again for Lincoln next week.
Clinton praised McMahon for his independence, noting he had voted against President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform plan. And Clinton said McMahon would face unfair criticism for his support for the $800 billion stimulus bill, which Republicans have pilloried for creating record deficits while not easing unemployment.
The stimulus, Clinton said, "gave money to state and local governments so they wouldn't have to lay off a million teachers and health care workers. Or turn around and raise taxes on you to keep them working, which would have been a disaster in this economy."
Clinton talked up his own record as president, noting that he had left a large budget surplus when he stepped down 2001 and that Republicans quickly took the budget into a deep deficit.
Clinton acknowledged he had campaigned hard against President Barack Obama when his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Hillary Clinton now serves as secretary of state.
But, the former president said, "He and Congress have done a better job than they are getting credit for."
Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the Clinton visit.
"Mike McMahon knows that voters reject his record of tax hikes, wasteful spending and massive debt, so he's calling on his Washington friends to try and save his career as a politician. The trouble is that no amount of political cover can make up for his broken promises," Mazzola said.