Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
As Bill Clinton traveled the talk-show circuit last month in advance of his charitable foundation’s annual meeting, the former president’s passion for philanthropy was much more evident than his passion for Barack Obama.
In fact, some Obama supporters saw his remarks about the Democratic presidential nominee as damning with faint praise — dispassionate, cold and aloof. Furthermore, Clinton has gone out of his way at times to praise Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, causing some to question his commitment to helping elect the Illinois senator.
If his speech to 2,500 Obama supporters Sunday in Las Vegas was any indication, Clinton is thawing, if not offering a warm embrace. Indeed, speaking at Chaparral High School, he seemed to recognize how his words would be read, first and foremost by the Republican Party.
“Here we are in Nevada, it’s getting close to the end of the election, and the other side is making some Hail Mary passes,” Clinton said. He then joked that, with a little more than two weeks left before Election Day, he had to be careful he didn’t say or do anything to reduce Obama’s lead over McCain.
So he made the argument for Obama with a nuts-and-bolts speech, focusing largely on the economic crisis and the country’s health care system. But before launching into policy, Clinton couldn’t help himself. He joked that Obama was not his first choice, and then followed with this line: “The one reason I’m here tonight is because Hillary sent me, because we know what we think should happen.”
Clinton remains popular in Nevada, a state he won twice, albeit with the help of independent candidate Ross Perot. His wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote in the state’s presidential caucus, though Obama won more delegates. His approach Sunday mirrored that of many of his wife’s disappointed supporters: focus more on the issues than on the candidate.
“We are picking someone to restore the fundamentals of the credit and banking industry in America, to bring back the American dream, to fix a broken health care system, to bring our troops home from Iraq, and to restore America’s standing in the world,” Clinton said. “If that’s the job, I don’t think it’s close on who we ought to hire.”
He noted his respect for McCain, as he has throughout the campaign, but said Obama “is talking about getting the show on the road again.” He said Obama had passed his first two presidential tests: one, by picking Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, and two, by his reaction to and understanding of the financial crisis.
“In fairness, both candidates did the right thing. They wanted to try and make it right,” Clinton said of the financial crisis. “But you saw the last two debates. Who understood it better?”
He said Obama’s careful study of the issue and his willingness to support an unpopular idea showed good judgment and leadership. “When you have to make a decision in an emergency, way more than half the time the right thing to do will not be popular in the moment,” Clinton said. “You have to be willing to be judged in the long run.”
On health care, Clinton said Obama’s plan would lead to more people being covered, allow affordable access to the congressional health plan, and include tax credits for small businesses that can’t afford to provide their employees with insurance. McCain’s plan, he said, would “drive more people into buying their own health insurance,” which he said could cover more people in the short term but was grossly inefficient and would ultimately lead to “millions more who won’t have health care.”
“Our plan is better,” Clinton said. “On this issue alone, for economic, health care and moral reasons, Barack Obama should be the next president.”
He implored the crowd to make the case for Obama to everyone they knew. “All you have to do, to have an enormous victory on Election Day, is remind people,” Clinton said. “You can’t lose this election unless people forget what it’s about ... You keep putting it out there and we’ll have a great victory.”
Clinton’s visit capped a week of heavy campaigning in Nevada for the Obama campaign. On Friday Biden visited Henderson and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright hosted a foreign policy roundtable at UNLV. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle stumped for McCain on Wednesday. McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will hold rallies Tuesday in Reno and Henderson.
On Saturday, the first day of early voting, more than 25,000 people cast ballots, shattering the previous record of 14,204 set in 2004. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.