Former President Bill Clinton told a cheering crowd Friday at a Democratic rally in Indianapolis that they can't let Hoosiers elect Republicans who tried to stop the federal government from saving the American auto industry.
Speaking to 4,000 supporters packed into the North Central High School gym, Clinton said that GOP gubernatorial hopeful Mike Pence and Senate candidate Richard Mourdock did all they could to stop what he called a restructuring – and critics call a bailout – of Chrysler and General Motors.
Pence, who serves in Congress and voted against the auto deal, is facing Democrat John Gregg in a race the Republican is leading. Mourdock, the state treasurer who went to court to stop the Chrysler restructuring, is in a tight battle with Democrat Joe Donnelly, who also serves in the U.S. House.
The Democrats joined Clinton on stage at Friday's rally as the former president lauded the auto deal that he said saved jobs and bolstered the U.S. economy.
"John Gregg's opponent voted against it, and Joe Donnelly's opponent tried to kill it in court," Clinton said as the crowd stood and waved signs. "You've got to give them credit: They didn't just speak out against it. I mean they took a real stand. They said: Let's put those suckers out of work as quickly as we can."
Clinton said the Republicans opposed a deal that others saw as common sense, which was the theme of Friday's rally.
"The bailout was supported by the other car companies," Clinton said. "And it worked. Auto sales last month reached a four year high."
In a speech to the crowd, which waved signs and carried Clinton books, Donnelly echoed the former president's criticism of Mourdock.
"He said he never took a pledge to save every job in Indiana," Donnelly said. "Well I took that pledge. I'll walk from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River if it will save 10 more Hoosier jobs."
The race between Donnelly and Mourdock is tight – a tossup according to most political pundits – and Democrats are hoping that Clinton's appearance will swing the vote in Donnelly's favor.
Cheryle Meyncke, from Tipton attended Friday's rally and said that she thinks Clinton's visit will have a tremendous impact.
"He was incredibly right on point with his speech," Meyncke said.
A dozen years after leaving the Oval Office, Clinton is one of the most influential Democrats in the party. In fact, Donnelly said that when Clinton called him to ask if he could help out with the campaign, he was hearing the "voice of God."
But Murdock's campaign criticized Donnelly on Friday for having fun campaigning with Clinton while trying to distance himself from President Barack Obama.
"President Bill Clinton isn't on the ballot this year," said a statement sent by Mourdock's campaign. "President Barack Obama is. When will your party's current presidential nominee campaign with you in Indiana?
"After all, President Obama did call Joe Donnelly one of his "partners in Congress" and Joe Donnelly did vote for the president's big legislative agenda items: ObamaCare, the failed stimulus plan, and the bailouts of Wall Street."
During a lengthy speech Friday, Clinton also was critical of Mourdock's successful race against incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the GOP primary. Clinton said he was saddened because, although Lugar could be a strong advocate of conservatism, he had had worked with President Barack Obama on international matters.
Clinton characterized Mourdock as a candidate who thought he was always right and he said he probably wouldn't be willing to compromise on issues. Donnelly's campaign has depicted Murdock as a "my way or the highway" type of politician, echoing a phrase the Republican used during a television interview.
"I was raised that not everyone is right all the time," Clinton said. "Maybe Mourdock is right all the time. He's way right all the time, I know that."
Clinton said he felt like singing "Back home again in Indiana" when he arrived in Indianapolis. During the presidential primary four years ago, Obama was locked in a tight battle with Hillary Clinton and the former president came to the state repeatedly to stump for her.
Some of his travels through Indiana were spent with Gregg, who campaigned throughout Indiana for Hillary Clinton.
Gregg spoke to the rally too. Although he's behind Pence in polls, he told the crowd he's feeling confident.
"We're going to win," Gregg said. "It is great day to be a Hoosier who believes in bi-partisanship."
Zach Osowski is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a web service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.
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