RICHMOND, Va.— Sensing Democratic victory, Bill Clinton urged party activists to work over the next three weeks not just for Barack Obama but also to ensure the party enjoys healthy majorities in the House and Senate.
The former president, making the second of two stops in this newly-competitive state, cited polls showing Obama in the lead but warned against complacency.
“’He’s going to win, I don’t have to give it a lick,’” Clinton said Sunday night at a floodlit rally here in a courtyard on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, aping the voice of a Democratic activists. “He probably will win if you don’t give a lick, but if you don’t give a lick we won’t win the…congressional seats, we won’t win the Senate seats, we won’t win the governorships, we won’t have the chance to show America what will actually happen if he can implement his ideas.”
Clinton has sought to embrace more of a statesman role since Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination, offering praise for both Obama and John McCain and often more analysis than passion about the campaign.
But with Election Day approaching, Clinton offered the student-heavy crowd a dose of partisanship and amped up the energy.
“In six of the last eight years, for the first time in 30 years, we now know what happens when they can actually do everything they promised to do because they have the White House and the Congress,” Clinton said of the GOP, hastening to add that it was “not about good people and bad people” but “good ideas and bad ideas.”
Still, Clinton avoided any but the most mild shots at McCain, mentioning his name only indirectly.
Discussing last week’s debate in Nashville, Clinton said, “I listened to his opponent talking, it really seemed like he meant well.”
“But when Barack Obama talked I said, ‘This guy actually understands the problem, he understands health care, and he’s got a proposal that will actually help Americans get coverage, keep coverage and break the backs of this cost spiral.”
At at earlier rally in Roanoke, Va., Clinton took a bank shot at McCain by way of President Bush, saying, "The administration keeps plowing an Uzi's worth of bullets into the McCain-Palin ticket every time they have something else go wrong," according to the Associated Press.
But while Clinton offered nothing but high praise for the young Democrat who defeated his wife and bruised, at least temporarily, his reputation, he was also sure to weave in repeated mention of the runner-up.
Speaking for 25 minutes, he invoked Hillary’s name in discussing health care, energy, foreign policy and even offered a nod to a local Democratic strategist who had served as a Clinton superdelegate.
“You know, I’m very proud of her,” Clinton said. “She has now done 50 events for Sen. Obama, more than any other runner-up in the history of primary politics.”
For the most part, though, Clinton focused on policy, speaking in-depth about the financial crisis gripping the world and explaining the roots of the problem to the undergraduates.
Clinton noted that Obama had called him for consultation on the problem and leaned on other high-profile economic figures.
“Many of them worked for me, they’re good people,” Clinton observed.
He saluted McCain’s support for the rescue measure, but accused the Republicans who opposed it for doing so only because it was unpopular in the polls.
Of Obama’s response to the crisis, Clinton said he “passed the test with flying colors.”
Summing up his case, Clinton said: “It has come time to do the right thing.”
For years, statewide Democratic candidates in Virginia fretted about appearing with Clinton in public and often only called on his help to rouse turnout in the more moderate Washington suburbs.
But with Democrats on the rise here, winning consecutive gubernatorial races and virtually certain to hold both Senate seats after November, and the Clinton brand enjoying a boost among some rural whites after Sen. Clinton’s presidential run, the former president was welcomed. He enjoyed large and enthusiastic crowds, first in Roanoke, in the southwest part of the state, and here in the capital on a temperate fall night.
Obama and McCain are neck and neck in Virginia polls, and both the GOP nominee and his running mate, Sarah Palin, will make stops here Monday.
Clinton came within two points of carrying the commonwealth in 1996, one of the few times since LBJ carried Virginia in 1964 that it has been competitive.
But, as demonstrated by the sprawling crowd of a few thousand, included people pressed against the glass of classroom windows and looking out, Democrats are energized about the prospect of breaking the streak.
“Folks, I believe that for the first time in more than 40 years thanks to you Virginia will be in the Democratic column,” Clinton said to loud cheers.
He noted that Richmond had once been the capital of Confederacy and paid homage to Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, noting that Virginia had the opportunity to elect both the nation’s first African-American governor and fist African-American president.
Earlier in the day, he stood with Sen. Clinton, Sen. Joseph Biden and his wife Jill at a rally for the Democratic ticket in Scranton, Pennsylvania.