Former President Bill Clinton rallied thousands on the quad of UC Davis on Tuesday, endorsing four California Democrats running for Congress and encouraging Californians to vote for Proposition 30 and against Proposition 32.
Clinton endorsed current Reps. John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney as well as challengers Ami Bera and Jose Hernandez. Their four contests are among the most competitive in the nation, and the national Republican and Democratic parties are spending big to try to take the seats.
The districts at stake span a 200-mile-long swath of Northern California stretching from Modesto to Yuba City.
"The four people I'm on the stage with two in Congress, two trying to get there each in their own way, they represent the American dream," Clinton said. "They prove that a commitment to shared prosperity works better than 'trickle down, you're on your own.' "
It was a theme that ran throughout Clinton's speech and the candidates' remarks, as they catered their messages to the youthful and ethnically diverse audience. Hernandez and Bera talked about being raised by immigrant parents who taught them to work hard and aim high. Hernandez, whose parents were born in Mexico, grew up to become an astronaut. Bera, whose parents are from India, is a doctor.
Other frequent themes that drew cheers from the audience were college affordability and reproductive health. Bera, who is running against Republican Dan Lungren in the 7th Congressional District in the suburbs east of Sacramento, spoke in favor of abortion rights.
"We need leadership willing to fight for our individual liberties and our individual freedoms, and that includes a woman's right to choose," Bera said.
"This is personal. I'm running for Congress because I want my daughter to grow up in a country where she's in charge of her body."
Clinton spoke at length about what the Obama administration has done to cut the cost of college by changing to a direct lending system, lowering interest rates on student loans and increasing the amount of funding for federal Pell Grants.
"If you give (Republicans) the White House and the Congress, they are going to repeal President Obama's student loan reform, cost the taxpayers $60 billion more, which means they will cut the planned increases in Pell Grants, making it more difficult for a lot of you to go to school. This is a huge deal," Clinton said.
And then, clapping with each word for emphasis, he said:
"No college student in America should pass up the chance to vote or go to the polls not knowing this. This one thing could change the future of America."
Clinton said Republicans are wrong to believe "the government is the enemy and you've gotta gut it every time you turn around."
"After all you've been through in California, it's why you ought to vote for Proposition 30 and against 32," he said.
Proposition 30 is Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to raise sales taxes for everyone and income taxes on the wealthy to fund education and public safety. Proposition 32 is a business-backed initiative that would ban unions from deducting money from workers' paychecks to spend on political campaigns.
Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, said the four candidates Clinton endorsed are at odds with the former president's fiscal philosophy.
"President Clinton famously said the era of big government was over," Scarpinato said in an email. "Unfortunately these candidates couldn't disagree more with that philosophy as evidenced by their support for massive spending policies that will result in us borrowing more money from China."
Many in the UC Davis audience were babies when Clinton was first elected president in 1992. Several said they couldn't remember much about his presidency. But it was clear that for many of them, Clinton is the rock star of Democratic politics even if they mostly know him from the history books.
"I'm a huge Bill Clinton fan. He was my favorite president," 22-year-old Carmen Azcona said after the speech.
"I just think he did a lot for our country. He's huge about the environment. He balanced the budget. We had a surplus. And I feel like the country just went downhill after he left office."