Clinton draws spotlight at Sestak campaign rally
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SCRANTON, Pa. -- By name, there was a Joe Sestak rally in a high school gymnasium here on Tuesday, but it was unquestionably Bill Clinton's show.
Mr. Sestak, in fact, didn't even attend, as a hastily scheduled vote crucial to Pennsylvania's budget kept him in Washington, and he provided only a brief video message.
That kept the focus squarely on the nation's 42nd president, who delivered a few fond endorsements of his former national security staffer but primarily a defense of the Democratic economic agenda -- and a recitation of his own greatest hits of the '90s.
Mr. Clinton, in a half-hour address that was more policy brief than campaign stump, called Republicans "the shovel brigade" because they want to keep digging the economic hole left by the George W. Bush administration.
"They have the same ideas, and they've now tried it twice," Mr. Clinton said. "They tried it for the 12 years before I became president. They tried it for the eight years after, and it doesn't work as well as investing in the future."
Acknowledging he was "preaching to the converted," Mr. Clinton implored several hundred attendees to engage their friends still reeling from job losses and fearful of high deficits. Tell them, he said, that President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress need more than two years to right the ship.
"We don't blame them for being mad," Mr. Clinton said. "And if we don't produce in four years, they can kick us all out. But don't throw us out while we're putting this country on the path to a better tomorrow -- don't do that."
Mr. Sestak, a former three-star admiral in the Navy, served as director of defense policy under Mr. Clinton during his first term -- and was a valuable asset to a former governor without a lot of foreign policy experience.
"Thanks to Joe Sestak, I learned a lot in a short time, and we did a pretty good job of protecting America," Mr. Clinton said.
Their association has its controversial side as well.
Mr. Clinton also was the central figure in the botched White House "job offer" controversy during Mr. Sestak's primary campaign against Sen. Arlen Specter.
According to the White House and Mr. Sestak, presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had asked Mr. Clinton to approach Mr. Sestak about an unpaid White House advisory position on national security issues to get him out of the primary race. But Mr. Sestak shut Mr. Clinton down before the conversations got very far. Congressional Republicans have demanded further investigation, claiming the incident could constitute an illegal bribe.
The flap has died down in recent weeks as the race between Mr. Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey, who launched yet another statewide broadcast television ad Tuesday, has focused on spending.
After the Clinton event, Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik wrote in an e-mail, "When President Clinton teamed up with Republican majorities in Congress, we had a balanced budget. When President Obama teamed up with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and Joe Sestak, we got the largest deficits in American history. The clear solution is to send Pat Toomey to the Senate to provide a check and balance against the massive overspending by the liberal leadership in Washington."
The bill that kept Mr. Sestak from his rally Tuesday has been yet another campaign flashpoint.
House leaders called members back from August recess to vote on a $26.1 billion package of Medicaid and education funding for the states after the Senate approved the package last week. The bill -- which is paid for with program cuts and a tax increase on multinational corporations -- would help fill an $850 million gap in the Pennsylvania state budget. It passed the House, and Mr. Obama signed it into law Tuesday.
Mr. Sestak said the bill was crucial to save jobs; Mr. Toomey denounced it as another bailout.
Also appearing at Tuesday's event was Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in his first campaign rally for Mr. Sestak this year.
As banner-sized photographs of Mr. Clinton with Mr. Sestak swayed from basketball hoops above, Jim Brennan, 64, of Bear Creek, Luzerne County, said he was only slightly disappointed that he didn't get to see the candidate -- as Mr. Clinton was the main draw.
Mr. Brennan, a former Specter supporter, said he was leaning toward Mr. Sestak in the election because he's "better than the alternative." Mr. Clinton, he said, made a compelling case for keeping Democrats in power.
"He can't run for president again, can he?" Mr. Brennan asked with a laugh.
First Published August 11, 2010 12:00 am