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Bill Clinton: 'America Works Better When it Works Like a Community College'

The former president pitches Obama in Pennsylvania.

7:26 PM, Nov 5, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Blue Bell, Pa.
Bill Clinton was the star at a reelection rally here for Barack Obama, in suburban Philadelphia the day before the election. The former president addressed a crowd in the cold on the campus of Montgomery County Community College Monday afternoon. It was one one of four appearances Clinton made across Pennsylvania today.

Bill Clinton at memorial service for William J. Crowe 10-31-07 071031-N-0696M-119 0Y0ZF

While Democratic congresswoman Allyson Schwartz was in the middle of her introduction, Clinton emerged on the left side of the stage as many of the few thousand rally-goers craned their necks and snapped pictures of him. When he finally took the microphone, Clinton, slightly hoarse, said Tuesday’s election offered Pennsylvania voters a choice.

“I don’t think it’s very close,” Clinton said. “I want a candidate who understands that America works better when it works like a community college. You get to show up without regard to age or race or gender or sexual orientation. You’re judged on the merits.”

Clinton praised Obama for the bailout of the American auto industry and the passage of the health care law. “I like the health care bill,” he said. “And you should, too.”

The rally, held in Montgomery County, one of Philadelphia’s “collar” suburban counties, seemed aimed at shoring up the Democratic base in a swing area of Pennsylvania. Montgomery County went for Obama in 2008 by a whopping 21 points, and he received nearly 250,000 votes here. That’s 40 percent of Obama's 2008 margin of victory over John McCain in the state of Pennsylvania.

Clinton’s eleventh hour visit to this middle class suburban county (as well as to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Scranton) suggests Democrats may be worried about being able to hold on to the Keystone State, which they’ve been able to do in every presidential election since Clinton himself won it in 1992. A few recent polls have shown Mitt Romney within the margin of error in Pennsylvania, and one poll from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review even showed the race a tie. The Real Clear Politics poll average for Pennsylvania shows Obama with just a 3.8-point advantage—uncomfortable territory for an incumbent Democratic president.

What does this look like in Montgomery County? There are just as many yard signs in front of houses for Romney and Paul Ryan as there are for Obama and native son Joe Biden. The erstwhile long-shot Republican Senate candidate, Tom Smith, has plenty of signs here as well. There are even a few “Romney/Ryan/Smith” signs. Several Obama signs, meanwhile, are clustered in busy commercial areas. They look freshly delivered from a campaign office, too.

At the Clinton rally, the crowd looks more like the Democratic base—blacks, union members, young people—than a cross-section of this wealthy, older county. Only a two nights earlier in Bucks County next door, Romney held a massive rally, with reported numbers of 30,000 attendees. Monday's crowd for Clinton looked more like 4,000. 

Needless to say, Democrats have a built-in voter registration advantage in Pennsylvania, but as Jay Cost points out, the state appears to be slowly shifting toward the Republicans as its demographics change. Still, by dispatching Clinton—one speaker calls him the “Big Dog”—Democrats have shown they aren’t ready to concede Pennsylvania.

And perhaps, the last-minute push by Romney and the Republicans will be all for naught. That’s what Schwartz, the Democratic congresswoman, says is the goal.

“We want to make sure Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are wasting their time here,” she told the crowd.

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