LEWISTON – Former President Bill Clinton described the national political climate as a “fact-free feast” Sunday and urged Maine voters to give Democrats more time to fix the economic problems that arose during the Bush administration.

Clinton was back in Maine for the second time in a little over a month, campaigning for longtime friend and gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell and other Democrats on Tuesday’s ballot.

About 800 people gathered to hear Clinton give a rousing speech just before noon at the Lewiston Armory, where he praised Mitchell’s efforts to improve education, reform health care, promote alternative energy, protect the environment, reduce taxes and create jobs.

He said Mitchell’s lengthy experience as a legislator — including being the only woman in the nation to have headed her state’s House and Senate — sets her apart from her opponents, including independent Eliot Cutler and Republican Paul LePage, the front-runner.

“You just have one choice,” Clinton said. “You need to elect Libby Mitchell governor.”

Clinton also urged voters to support Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree in their re-election bids against Republican challengers Jason Levesque and Dean Scontras, respectively.

Clinton said this is a difficult election because many people are hurting financially and they’re being bombarded by campaign advertising that plays on their anger and anxiety. But in the spirit of Halloween, he said, voters must avoid being tricked into choosing candidates who aren’t working for their best interests.

Clinton said Maine’s Democratic candidates are caught “in the gap between when good things are done and when people begin to feel it.” He talked about health care reform, financial regulations, college loan programs, alternative energy policies and other changes he said are starting to show results.

The former Republican administration dug the nation into a hole for eight years, Clinton said, and because Democrats haven’t filled the hole in the 21 months since President Obama took office, some people want to “put the shovel brigade back in the hole.”

That’s a bad idea, Clinton said, because “they have told us they’re going to do exactly what they were doing before. We are coming back. Don’t give up.”

Mitchell said she hopes Clinton’s second visit will boost her chances in the final days of a tough campaign.

“I’ve got Bill Clinton and I’ve got you,” Mitchell said, introducing Clinton to the cheering crowd.

A MaineToday Media poll released Friday, conducted by Critical Insights, showed Le-Page at 40 percent, Mitchell at 21 percent and Cutler at 21 percent.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The five-way governor’s race includes independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, who lag far behind in polls.

Sunday’s rally drew both Democrats and Republicans, as well as some people who support Mitchell’s opponents.

Linda Sherwood of Auburn arrived at 8:30 a.m. to make sure that she, her mother and her two teenage sons were among the first in line. A Democrat who supports Cutler, Sherwood said she wanted her sons to hear Clinton speak.

“He’s so eloquent,” she said. “He’s one of the best speakers I’ve heard.”

Mark Delmar of Manchester, who saw Clinton speak in New Hampshire when he was running for president in 1992, brought his 11-year-old son, Nathan, to the rally.

“I want my son to get interested in politics and learn about the political process,” said Delmar, a Mitchell supporter.

Michael White of Lisbon was there with his wife, Stacey, and their two children.

“I’m a Republican, but I really think Libby Mitchell has a better plan for Maine,” White said after the rally. “I thought Clinton hit on all the points that are important to me.”

Mitchell’s campaign workers said they were pleased with the rally’s turnout, though they had received 1,700 requests for ticket reservations via e-mail, said spokesman David Loughran.

Loughran noted that a Democratic rally held in Lewiston on the weekend before the 2006 election, when Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election and U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was the keynote speaker, drew about 50 people.

Baldacci, Michaud and Pingree also spoke at Sunday’s rally.

“We’ve got to stand by (Mitchell) on Tuesday and make sure she gets elected the first woman governor of the state of Maine,” Baldacci said.

In September, Clinton spoke at a Mitchell rally held in South Portland that drew about 1,500 supporters. Clinton had endorsed Mitchell in March, before the primary, when she was among five Democratic contenders for the governor’s seat.

Mitchell and Clinton have been friends and political allies for decades. Mitchell and her husband, Jim, a native of Arkansas like Clinton, supported the former president during his 1992 presidential campaign. In 1994, Clinton appointed Mitchell to be chairwoman of the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. She held that post for four years.

In the 2008 presidential primary, Mitchell campaigned with Clinton in Maine in support of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is now secretary of state. And this year, before the June primary, Bill Clinton sent out a fundraising appeal for Mitchell.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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