Published Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 7:49 p.m.
Updated Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 9:54 p.m.
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Nobody works a crowd like the Big Dog.
Former President Bill Clinton lent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election campaign some of his trademark fire and charisma Thursday night, taking on the Tea Party movement and arguing to hundreds of party faithful that Nevada’s senior senator was hard at work turning around an economic disaster largely inherited from the Bush administration.
Speaking to more than 800 supporters in a packed gymnasium at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, Clinton sought to rally the Democratic base and redirect the anti-incumbency anger animating American politics this year — a sentiment that threatens the deeply unpopular Reid in November.
The Senate majority leader faces Republican Sharron Angle, who won a remarkable come-from-behind victory in this week’s primary, with a big assist from national conservative groups.
On Thursday, Clinton recalled the prosperity and budget surplus that accompanied his presidency and gave his seal of approval to the Obama administration initiatives Reid has shepherded through Congress, including the stimulus package and health care reform.
He said the measures were necessary to combat the deepening recession President Obama faced upon taking office.
“When you get in that deep a hole, the first rule is to stop digging,” Clinton said. “I know people are frustrated, but you can’t do this overnight.”
He defended Reid’s record, saying the stimulus package included tax cuts for low and middle-income people, helped plug state budget deficits and provided money for renewable energy projects, positioning Nevada to become the country’s first energy-independent state in the next decade.
“It’s not his fault you have the highest foreclosure rate,” Clinton said of Reid. “It’s not his fault you have all these financial shenanigans going on. He has passed law, after law, after law to minimize the problems people are having and get us out of this mess...Harry Reid is there trying to do what makes sense to get us back on our feet.”
In a pitch seemingly aimed at liberal Democrats, who feel the federal health legislation didn’t go far enough, Clinton said the bill provided a foundation for further reforms.
“This health care is not perfect, but if we hadn’t passed this health care bill, we’d never get a system we’re proud of,” he said. “We need to build on the good that’s in this bill, not repeal it.”
He also lobbed a series of sharp attacks at Angle, chiding her for ducking the news media after her election victory and highlighting some of her lightning-rod positions. He recalled playing the childhood game “Where’s Waldo?” with his daughter.
“Now you’re going to play that ‘Where’s Sharron?’ game, because she’s hiding out,” Clinton said. “And I might hide out, too, if I said I wanted to get rid of Social Security and Medicare.”
As voters consider the Senate candidates, Clinton urged the crowd not to act out of anger.
“There’s plenty to be mad about,” he said. “The question is: When you are mad, what do you do? I want you to all think about this. Let’s forget about politics. Think about the rest of your life, every decision you made when you were mad, there’s an 80 percent chance you made a mistake, right?”
The crowd’s reaction: Laughter and knowing nods.
Later, he added: “I get why people get mad. People should get mad. I get the idea of the Tea Party. But I don’t get why we would reward the very idea that got us in the hole in the first place.”
Meanwhile, national and state Republicans championed Angle, pointing to a Rasmussen Reports poll Wednesday showing Angle beating Reid by double digits.
“Harry Reid’s record as Senate majority leader is comprised of support for a failed $787 billion stimulus package, an extremely unpopular health care bill that includes massive tax increases and an expansion of the federal government’s role in personal medical decisions, and broken promises on issues from the housing crisis to immigration reform,” said Nevada Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei. “It is no surprise that Nevada voters, with the primaries barely behind us, are already rallying behind Sharron Angle and supporting her campaign against Harry Reid.”
Since her primary victory, Angle has gone dark, ducking reporters seeking interviews as she retools her campaign for what promises to be a brutal five months. She has scrubbed her campaign website of her positions, leaving only one page with a “donate” button. At the end of Reid’s rally, she had raised $332,000.
According to the Associated Press, Angle has hired Prosper Group Corp., the Indiana-based consulting firm that managed the website and multimillion-dollar online fundraising operation of Sen. Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who replaced the late Sen. Edward Kennedy this year.