By the time President Bill Clinton walked into the gym at Adams City High School in Commerce City, Colorado, the crowd was ready. Just before 6 p.m., the former president entered the stage; the students and faculty soaked him with wild applause, bringing out the familiar Clinton smile that feeds on such adoration. He thanked the school’s principal and superintendent, cracked a few jokes about being on the campaign trail, then turned serious. “I am more enthusiastic about President Obama this time than I was when I campaigned for him four years ago,” he said. “I’d like to tell you why.”
That launched one of Clinton’s famous lists. There are three big questions about the future of this country. But the number of issues he enumerated in a speech that lasted almost an hour was more than three. The former president touted Obama’s accomplishments better than Obama has himself done thus far: halting the Great Recession, bringing back Detroit, expanding health-care coverage, and improving education, both in K-12 and for college. The Clinton event was such a last-minute arrangement—the former president was making up for a Boulder appearance by Barack Obama on Tuesday that had been canceled after Superstorm Sandy—that there was no time to sell tickets, and the event was free and open to the public.
Dispatching Clinton to campaign in his stead in swing states this week is part of Obama’s effort to win back the middle-class voters—here and elsewhere—who are frustrated by the economy’s slow recovery. Commerce City is just the place to do it. It’s 38.2 percent Latino, and it was Latinos who turned out in large numbers in 2008—they made up 13 percent of the electorate, up by five points from 2004, and 61 percent voted for Obama. How Adams County, and nearby Jefferson and Araphaoe counties, vote could decide who gets Colorado’s nine electoral votes in a presidential contest that’s almost tied. It’s no massive electoral prize, like Ohio, but Colorado could put Obama or Romney over the edge.
In detailing Obama’s plan for the future, Clinton lingered on higher education—he was, after all, speaking to a crowd that included high schoolers. “Now y’all listen,” he said. “I’m amazed that people don’t know this.” He described the student-loan reform bill passed on Obama’s watch that entrusts with government, rather than private banks, with administering student loans, saving $60 billion over ten years. The savings will in turn be used to bolster Pell Grants and give tax credits to families with children in college. After this point, as after every point, Clinton turned on Obama’s challenger. “What is the Romney position? I couldn’t make this up.” Romney, he said, would undo all those gains and return the country back to failed policies. When pressed on specifics, Clinton said, Romney likes to say, “Wait till after the election.”
The worrisome thing, Clinton said, was that the race is so close: He expressed astonishment that Republicans were running on the same economic policies that cause the Great Recession. “We’ve got people not taking this seriously,” he said. “Somedays I feel like I am lost in a funhouse.” Before urging the crowd to get out the vote, the former president spoke in broad terms about the current historical moment. The founders, he said, created this country in the midst of a system of slavery they knew was wrong, when only white men could vote and slaves counted as three-fifths of a person.
“They knew we just had to keep going, until we got it right,” he said.” We’ve always kept on going. This is not the time to chose ideology over evidence … trickle down over shared prosperity, illusions over arithmetic.”
He praised Colorado as a forward-looking place with old-fashioned values. To cheers that drowned him out, Clinton walked off the stage to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and took a few pictures with with students before aids whisked him away to another campaign event in Denver, and more states the next day.