SOUTH PORTLAND – In a 40-minute speech that combined humor, passion and a remarkable knack for recalling statistical minutiae, former President Bill Clinton laid out the case for sending Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell to the Blaine House and her fellow Democrats to state and national office.

Clinton was the fifth and final speaker Sunday night at a rally for Mitchell inside the Hutchinson Union Building athletic center on the campus of Southern Maine Community College.

Clinton was a bit late in arriving, having spent the afternoon in Massachusetts at a political function for U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. But the crowd of about 1,500 roared in approval as he climbed a small stage in front of an oversized American flag, holding hands with Mitchell after a short biographical video put her candidacy in perspective.

“I want to give you some ammunition for the people who weren’t here tonight,” Clinton told the partisan crowd. He proceeded to put forth a detailed analysis of economic conditions, how the country got itself into difficulties, and his vision for the way out.

“It was like being in class, wasn’t it?” said Mitchell, who sat on stage to Clinton’s left, in front of a Maine state flag, during the former president’s talk. “His ability to go over the economic issues and what we need to do to get out of the mess that we’re in and to create jobs and using education was remarkable.”

Mitchell has campaigned for both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton during their runs for president.

“I felt honored that he would come on my behalf,” she said.

Republican front-runner Paul LePage was hardly mentioned by name, but referred to as “the tea party candidate” by Mitchell or “that fella” by Clinton, who followed Mitchell, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, and Gov. John Baldacci to the microphone.

About half the crowd sat in wooden bleachers on the west side of the basketball court. The rest stood in front of the small stage for a program that began with a speech by Baldacci about 15 minutes later than the scheduled 7:30 start.

Baldacci, Michaud and Pingree all made reference to the country’s years of prosperity under the Clinton administration, with economic expansion, balanced budgets, 22.5 million jobs added, median family incomes rising by $6,000 over his eight years, a reduction in the deficit and, as seems to be a required description, surpluses “as far as the eye can see.”

“This is exactly why I’m running for office,” Mitchell said when her turn came, “so we can get Maine back to where we were then.”

Mitchell spoke of education, of protecting the environment, of heath care being a basic right, and of the difficult times facing the state, with high unemployment and a serious budget deficit.

“We can give in to anger,” she said. “Or we can be positive and look ahead and we can rebuild the Maine that we know and love. We will not let our state be destroyed by the tea party. There’s too much at stake.”

But the highlight of the evening, clearly evident by the minute-long ovation after Mitchell’s introduction of him, was the 42nd president. After several acknowledgments, Clinton used the community college setting as a metaphor for the country.

“If America worked half as well in Washington as community colleges do at the grass-roots level,” Clinton said, “you’d have about half as many problems as we’ve got today, so I’m honored to be here.”

He also noted two Olympians from Maine in the audience, Julia Clukey, who competed in luge, and Seth Wescott, who twice won gold medals in snowboarding.

“When Libby and I were walking in here tonight, I said, ‘Libby, did you ever think about how much running for governor is like snowboardcross?’ ” said Clinton, drawing laughter from the crowd. “It’s slippery and fast, and somebody’s always trying to knock you off the track.”

Clinton listed three reasons for his visit.

“One is, I’m crazy about Libby and Jim Mitchell and grateful for their years of friendship to Hillary and me,” he said.

Second, he spoke of knowing great leaders around the world, and said Mitchell is on that level.

“She’s a profoundly good person,” he said. “She’s smart as a whip. She plays well with others. She works with people to get stuff done.”

Thirdly, “I love this state. You were good to me. You voted for me twice and I appreciate it.”

Clinton said he understood the anger and frustration among the voting public. But “what the Republicans seem to want, all over America, is to make this election a referendum,” Clinton said. “A referendum on your anger or your disappointment, your apathy that you’ll stay home and hopefully you’ll have a lot of amnesia over how we got into this fix in the first place.”

If people vote in anger, then it spells trouble for Democrats, Clinton said. If people vote while considering that eight years of Republican leadership led to the current predicament, then “Libby Mitchell will be the next governor of Maine.”

The three questions to remember, he said, are: Where are we? What do we need to do now? Who’s most likely to do it?

“I know that every time you make a decision when you’re mad, 80 percent of the time you’re going to make a mistake,” he said. “Let that anger clarify, not cloud, your judgment.”

He portrayed the Republican argument for this election as “We dug that hole for eight years. (Democrats) have had 21 months and we’re not out yet! So give us back those shovels.”

Mitchell said the election comes down to choices, rather than any referendum.

“What I stand for and what Mr. LePage stands for,” she said, “is quite different.” 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be reached at 791-6425 or at:

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