Capitol Alert

Bill Clinton to California Democrats: ‘We need you’

Former President Bill Clinton, center, appears at a rally at UC Davis to get out the vote for Democratic Reps. Ami Bera, left, and John Garamendi, at UC Davis on Wednesday.
Former President Bill Clinton, center, appears at a rally at UC Davis to get out the vote for Democratic Reps. Ami Bera, left, and John Garamendi, at UC Davis on Wednesday. rbyer@sacbee.com

Former President Bill Clinton encouraged California Democrats on Wednesday to stifle the urge to pass on the midterm election next Tuesday, imploring them to dismiss Republican efforts to feed off of voter frustration.

Clinton, rallying about 4,500 people at the University of California, Davis, said Democrats have historically done poorly in non-presidential contests “because a different America shows up in most midterm elections” that feature 435 House seats and a third of 100 Senate seats.

“So if two different Americas show up, then you shouldn’t be surprised if you get two different results,” Clinton said during the afternoon event at the campus’ ARC Pavilion. He urged the audience to see past the millions of outside dollars being used to saturate the TV airwaves with what he described as attacks to mislead the electorate or keep eligible Democratic voters at home.

“There is a very particular purpose with this election, and that purpose is to get you to sit it out, to get you to voluntarily give up your power,” he said. “If you don’t like the polarization in Washington, you must vote this year.”

Clinton has become perhaps his party’s most trusted messenger in recent years, traveling to targeted House and Senate districts across the country and drawing sharp contrasts between Democrats and their GOP challengers. He credited the Obama administration and Democrats with largely helping restore the economy ahead of schedule and said the election hinges on whether voters are fully aware of the rebound. He said another wild card this year is whether young people, people of color and the elderly cast ballots.

“I have lots of people try to sell me lots of things,” Clinton said. “It has been my experience that anybody who tries to convince me of something by stopping me from thinking does not have my best interest at heart.”

“We need you,” he added.

California Democrats are favored to win in many of the state’s high-profile contests, shifting the focus to a handful of competitive House and state legislative races that will decide the composition of Congress and determine whether Democrats can again win a two-thirds supermajority at the state Capitol.

Clinton started the day in Oxnard at a get-out-the-vote event for Democratic Reps. Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.

In Davis, Clinton described Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, as the embodiment of the American Dream. Bera, a 49-year-old, first-generation American whose parents emigrated from India in the 1950s, is being challenged by former GOP Rep. Doug Ose, a businessman who served three terms in Congress through 2005.

While Ose has cast Bera as a loyal foot soldier for Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Clinton described Bera as a local remedy for the intransigence gripping Washington. He cited the congressman’s support for the federal health care overhaul, equal pay for women and increasing the minimum wage. He said Republicans are too often trapped in an “evidence-free zone,” mentioning their denial of global climate change and disapproval of raising the minimum wage.

In brief opening remarks, Bera spoke about his high school senior daughter, turning to Clinton and saying, “When she votes in her first election in 2016, I want her vote to help us elect the first female president of the United States of America.”

“I am ready for that,” Bera said of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected to announce her presidential bid sometime next year. “But first, let’s focus on an election we have six days from now.”

The Bera-Ose contest is the most expensive House race in the nation, with outside groups pouring more than $11 million into the suburban Sacramento district – has mostly played out on TV screens, on radios and in mailboxes.

Ose’s campaign and national Republicans said the former president’s visit smacked of desperation.

“As we have seen over the past few weeks, Congressman Bera’s campaign is on life support. Today’s rally proves he is willing to do whatever it takes to cover up his record of having delivered absolutely nothing for California’s 7th Congressional District,” Ose spokeswoman Michawn Rich said.

“Unfortunately for Ami Bera, not even Bill Clinton can spin his reckless record in Congress,” added Tyler Q. Houlton, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.

The Davis event also featured Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, and a trio of Democrats running for statewide offices, schools chief Tom Torlakson, secretary of state candidate Alex Padilla and controller candidate Betty Yee.

The afternoon, however, belonged to Clinton, with his shock of gray hair and gesturing with a signature curled thumb. Some of the students in attendance were only entering grade school when Clinton left the White House in 2001, with a 66-percent approval rating. He described himself as old, retired, gray racehorse that’s stored in the barn and allowed to run during election time.

“They drag me out on the track and they slap me on the bum just to see if I can get around one more time,” he said.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago

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