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Steve Kuchera and Peter Passi, Forum Communications, Published October 30 2012

To Clinton's questions, Duluth crowd answers: Obama

In a close-fought battle for control of the White House and Congress, Democrats aren’t taking support from Northland voters for granted this year. The party sent its heavy artillery Tuesday afternoon, when former President Bill Clinton took the stage at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kirby Ballroom.

Clinton told a crowd of about 700 people there are three great questions in this election.

Who is more likely to help the middle and lower classes?

Who is more likely to develop a 21st century economy that revives the American dream?

And who is more likely — in today’s divisive political environment — to form a more perfect union?

Members of the audience shouted “Obama” in response to each question.

During his campaign stop in Duluth, Clinton stumped vigorously for President Obama and 8th District congressional candidate Rick Nolan, who is running to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack. Clinton also offered words of praise for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, letting on that he considers her a shoe-in for re-election.

Clinton was quick to voice his support for Nolan, telling of his recent hotel stay in Minneapolis. “I turned on the television, and the first thing I saw was one of these super PAC ads sliming him, and I thought: He’s my guy.”

“I’m telling you with that Citizens United decision the Supreme Court was trying to hang a ‘For Sale’ sign on the seal of the United States of America, and we should tell them: No thank you. America is not for sale.”

“I urge you to get out and vote for him,” Clinton said, referring to Nolan. “And every argument I will give for President Obama applies to Rick Nolan. It applies to what kind of America we’re going to have.

“I’ve worked my heart out in this election,” Clinton said, going on to say that he often doesn’t know if he’s working with Democrats or Republicans because he’s more interested in working with people interested in actually solving problems.

Warning of extremism, Clinton said: “The rise of the far right ... really threatens America’s future.”

Jobs and investment were common refrains during Clinton’s 39-minute speech. Romney’s policies would result in large tax increases on the middle class and gutting many government services, he warned.

“Obama’s plan is better,” he said.

Clinton tailored part of his speech to the college students in the audience.

“If every college student knows these facts, the election” would be in the bag he said, going on to describe the details of the student loan program Obama supports.

Romney’s plan, Clinton said, would make student loans more expensive and would increase the drop-out rate, causing America to lose its competitive edge.

Clinton also addressed the differences in Obama’s and Romney’s health-care and Medicare plans.

“You have to re-elect President Obama,” he said. “Obama is much more likely to give us that perfect union.”

Long line

Many people waited in line for hours to see Clinton. By 11:30 a.m. several hundred people were waiting in line outside Kirby Ballroom, where Clinton’s scheduled 1 p.m. appearance had been pushed back to 2 p.m.

At the head of the line was Caroline Laurent, a French citizen working on a master’s of tribal administration and governance at UMD. She had been waiting in line since 6 a.m. to see Clinton.

“Next to Obama, he is the top American president in France,” she said.

Obama is very popular in France for his foreign policies, his treatment of gays and others.

“The goodness shines out of him,” she said. “Although I can’t vote, I’m here to give my support. And I’m telling everyone to vote, vote for Obama.”

Just behind Laurent was a group of six pharmacy students, three of whom had arrived at 2:30 a.m. and slept there.

Ellie Stasney, 25, called Clinton “an icon for our generation.”

The students had cut class and asked their instructor to reschedule an exam so they could attend the event.

“Twenty years from now, we’re not going to remember an examination,” Beth Fruehauf said. “We will remember hearing Bill Clinton speak in the first row.”

Duluth fire officials allowed about 700 people into the room after the doors opened to the public at 1:10 p.m. — 65 minutes before Clinton took the stage. Authorities estimate at least 300 people had to be turned away to keep the crowd from exceeding the ballroom’s capacity.

Joe and Jennifer Sundal joined the line at 10:45 a.m. and were among the final handful of people to make the admission cut. The Duluth couple pulled their three children from school to attend the event.

“We wanted them to have the opportunity to be part of the political process and to feel the excitement,” she said

Joseph, a seventh grader, agreed school could wait for Clinton.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said with anticipation.

Some of the first audience members in the door broke into a run, as they jockeyed for position. While they waited for Clinton, the crowd broke into chants of “Just vote no” and “Four more years.”

Rousing introductions

The program began at 1:50 p.m. with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, calling for the defeat of Minnesota’s two amendment proposals, a reclaiming of the state Legislature by the DFL and the need to elect Rick Nolan to Congress.

Klobuchar recognized a number of state and local office-holders and candidates sitting in the VIP section of the room, including Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Duluth Mayor Don Ness, state Reps. Mary Murphy and Carly Melin, state Sens. Dave Tomassoni and Roger Reinert, and Erik Simonson, who is running for House District 7B

Klobuchar entertained the crowd with the story of the first time she met Bill Clinton in Washington. She was going to introduce him at an event. When the band began playing “Hail to the Chief,” she started walking until a hand landed on her shoulder.

“I know you’re going to do great out there,” the president told her. “But when they play that song, I usually go first.”

Adopting a more serious tone, Klobuchar said America can continue to move forward or return to the Republican policies that led the country into a great recession.

She urged audience members to step up their campaign efforts, saying: “We need to reach out to people who are outside of our comfort zone.”

“You have to give them the facts and convince them how important it is to turn out in this election,” Klobuchar said.

She roused the crowd to action, saying: “I don’t care how much money they put up against Rick Nolan or what they say or what they do. In the end it’s your vote. I don’t care what the super PACs do. It’s the super volunteers in this room that are going to win the election.”

Nolan followed Klobuchar and primed the crowd for Clinton’s appearance.

“It’s going to be my pleasure to introduce the man who on the campaign trail now has come to be known as the explainer-in-chief. He’s a man who knows his arithmetic. He’s a man who knows what this election contest is all about.”

“The man who’s been going around this country, telling people what the implications are for this Romney-Ryan agenda. And we’ve been telling people here in Minnesota’s 8th District about the implications of this Romney-Ryan-Cravaack budget, as we call it.”

Nolan swung into an attack on the fiscal policies of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his running mate Paul Ryan and Cravaack.

“Make no mistake about it. At its core, that budget is about doing and creating more favors and more advantages for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class in this country,” he said. “That budget is about creating tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, while increasing the burden on working families.”

“This bunch ... wants more tax breaks for big companies to ship our jobs overseas, when what we need are trade and tax incentives to keep our manufacturing here in America, where it belongs,” Nolan said.

Reactions

“It was worth the wait,” said Elizabeth Bohlke, a UMD senior history major from Shakopee who got in line for the event at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

“It was sort of surreal to have Bill Clinton here. It’s not your typical school event,” she said excitedly.

James Goodman, a UMD junior from Sparta, Wis., said he was inspired to get out and register to vote in Duluth. He predicted Clinton’s appearance will help energize many of his classmates as well.

“A lot of my friends seemed to be flat-lining a little bit during this election. Maybe they didn’t do enough research,” Goodman said.

He described the atmosphere at the campaign event as “pretty electric.”

When Goodman first heard that Clinton would be visiting campus, he said he didn’t believe it. “I was dumbfounded. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep last night.”

Madiha Mirza, a UMD senior political science major, seemed starstruck following her brief encounter with Clinton. “I’m from Pakistan and touched a U.S. president!” she said, calling it “a dream come true.”


Steve Kuchera and Peter Passi write for the Duluth News Tribune