In a campaign stop befitting a rock star, with strobe lights and music and screaming, the Comeback Kid came home today with one message: Make Arkansas a Comeback State to the roster of blue Democrat states.
“We’ve got two days here, and we can win here,” said former president Bill Clinton, who has been campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry since last Monday. “It’s not too late; we can move this thing,” the former governor told a crowd of about 6,200 people gathered in the city’s convention center for a get-out-the-vote rally.
Advisers to President Bush, who won Arkansas’s six electoral votes four years ago, have assumed the state is still in the red Republican ranks. But recent polls here have shown the presidential race tightening or in a dead heat, and a local Kerry spokesman said Sunday that “the campaign of John Kerry is poised for victory in Arkansas.”
With 13 field offices, 40 paid staff members and “thousands and thousands” of volunteers working to get out the Kerry vote in the last 48 hours of the campaign, John Emekli said all the campaign needed was an appearance by Clinton. “He’s still the most galvanizing force we know in Arkansas,” he said.
Indeed, Clinton’s appearance drew not only the party faithful — many of them wearing buttons for Kerry or Democratic congressional candidates — but also Arkansans who still love the former president despite the personal foibles that sidelined him during the 2000 presidential campaign when Al Gore asked his former running mate to stay off the campaign trail.
“He’s my ex-governor and he’s my ex-president and I love to hear him speak,” said Barbara Casey of Little Rock, who brought her 12-year-old son and stood in line for an hour to get into the rally. “He’s inspirational and he’s a great motivational speaker.”
As for his personal scandals, Casey said: “I don’t care what he’s done. He’s a people person and he loves people. He’s a good person and he’s intelligent and he hasn’t done anything anybody else hasn’t done. He was just surrounded by people who hated him.”
A New York resident since 2001, Clinton ended a week of campaigning for Kerry in his home state, where he ridiculed Bush — “I was laughing my head off during the debates,” Clinton said — and chided Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee for calling him “absentee for a dozen years” from Arkansas.
“Eight of those years I was in the White House,” Clinton said.
This year, he added, the state lost 3,000 jobs under Bush while during his two terms as president, Arkansas gained 113,000 jobs. “You were better off without me in the state,” he said as the crowd laughed and cheered.
Clinton invoked Huckabee’s name a second time, saying that despite the governor’s criticism of him, “as a private citizen I created more jobs in Arkansas than President Bush did.” Clinton was referring to the workers employed in building his presidential library, which will open here next month.