Clinton bolsters Bennet, bashes opponents’ ‘18th century ideas’

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

DENVER — The Big Dog barked up a storm Monday night, urging a packed gymnasium full of Democrats to work their tails off to keep U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in office. Former President Bill Clinton touched down in Colorado to mark the first day of early voting across the state, stopping to rouse an estimated 2,100 supporters by framing the November election as “a choice, not a referendum.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and former President Bill Clinton greet a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at a rally Oct. 18 at the Evie Garrett Dennis campus in northeast Denver. Clinton’s appearance on behalf of the Democratic Senate candidate is evidence that the race is tight between Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Former President Bill Clinton, right, tells Democrats why he believes they should frame the upcoming election as “a choice, not a referendum.”
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak, left, stops to chat with state Sen. Linda Newell and her daughters Kate and Brittany at a rally for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet featuring former President Bill Clinton on Oct. 18 at a Denver school.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll rallies a capacity crowd gathered to hear former President Bill Clinton urge Democrats to turn out the vote for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in Denver on Oct.18.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and state House candidate Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, mingle as the crowd gathers for a rally for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet featuring former President Bill Clinton at the Evie Garrett Dennis campus in northeast Denver on Oct. 18.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Gov. Bill Ritter, right, keeps an eye on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s daughters, from left, Halina, Anne and Caroline, while the crowd awaits the appearance of Bennet and former President Bill Clinton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The rally shook the rafters at the new Evie Barrett Dennis campus in Green Valley Ranch, just downwind from Denver International Airport. Dennis, a previous superintendent of Denver Public Schools — Bennet’s job before he was tapped for the Senate seat in January 2009 — was in the audience and beamed when admirers acknowledged her from the podium.

A parade of top state Democrats — including state House Speaker Terrance Carroll, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall — warmed up the crowd, but it was the popular ex-president who packed them in.

Clinton kept the standing-room-only crowd cheering and waving signs for nearly 45 minutes of stem-winding oratory. He blasted the Tea Party — and Bennet’s Republican opponent, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who rode a wave of anti-establishment anger to narrowly edge former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton for the Senate nomination — as antiquated and daft.

“Folks, they’ve got everybody at this Tea Party but the Mad Hatter,” Clinton said, but then calmed the derisive laughter.

“The truth is, this is really quite serious,” he said. “Sometimes it looks like they’re advocating 18th century ideas. But mostly what they’re advocating is what no one has believed in for more than a hundred years since we moved from being an agricultural society and realized these big economic interests would crush the life out of the country and prohibit our ever building a great middle class society.”

Swinging at the massive spending evidenced by wall-to-wall attack ads on Colorado television stations, Clinton said the secretive funding behind the ads should give voters pause.

“There’s a reason they’ve got phony names and don’t want you to know who they are,” Clinton said after referencing a group founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove. “Because if you knew who they were, you would know why they pay for the ads and what they hope to get for them. And then,” he said with a sly smile, “you would vote for Sen. Bennet instead of against him every time you see a negative add against him because the people that are paying for them are too chicken to say who they are.”

Clinton made numerous references to what he called his administration’s successes, including balancing the federal budget and presiding over a booming economy. His secret? He said the Clinton administration brought “arithmetic” to Washington and that the first thing the Republicans did when they took over “was repeal arithmetic.”

He warned against falling for the angry Republican message as the election approaches.

“Buck wants this election to be a referendum — a referendum on your anger, on your disappointment, on your frustration, on all your worries,” Clinton said, adding that instead, “if it becomes a choice, then he’s got a problem.”

Clinton made a stop in Denver after campaigning in Washington State for another Democratic senator in a tough race. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared at a fundraiser for Bennet in Cherry Hills Village.

A feisty and jocular Bennet sounded similar themes in his speech introducing Clinton.

“The very same people that burned the house down want their matches back,” Bennet said to sustained cheers. “We are not going backwards. We make mistakes — nobody’s perfect — but one mistake we are not going to make is going back to the policies that got us here in the first place.”

The Democrat sounded a litany of charges against his Republican opponent.

“He wants to bring back the failed policies of the last administration, which drove us into the ditch in the first place. And he’s added a few bells and whistles of his own,” he said.

Mentioning the previous day’s nationally televised debate with Buck on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bennet chided his opponent for what his campaign has labeled persistent “flip flops” on key positions.

“It is so difficult to prepare for these debates. Usually you’re only debating one person up there, but I had to debate two — the original Ken Buck and Ken Buck 2.0,” Bennet said to raucous laughter.

He hit Buck on a number of positions Bennet said he’s reversed himself on, including whether to “abolish” the Department of Education, privatize Social Security, “wean” families off federal student loans or a state ballot measure that would confer “personhood” on fertilized embryos.

“There’s the Ken Buck who wants to create a new tax policy where corporations pay nothing, while he sticks every Colorado family with a 23 percent federal sales tax on everything we buy,” Bennet said, describing a flat-tax proposal Buck had earlier said he’d consider. “And now, the new Ken Buck who just says that’s a good idea that he doesn’t support.”

Clinton, standing alongside Bennet on stage, was overcome with laughter lasting nearly a minute after Bennet delivered the line and then added, “You cannot make this up.”

“This election, Coloradans are determined to move this country forward, not backward, and work to create a politics worthy of the aspirations we all share for our kids and our grandkids,” said Bennet campaign spokesman Trevor Kincaid after the rally. He noted that the thousands who attended the rally signed up for get-out-the-vote shifts for what political analysts believe could be one of the tightest Senate races in the country.

“Former presidents are always welcome in Colorado,” the Buck campaign said. “We hope President Clinton’s second endorsement in this senate race is just as successful as his first.”

Clinton broke with the Obama White House this summer when he endorsed Bennet’s primary opponent, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who lost to Bennet in the August election. Romanoff — who endorsed Bennet on the steps of the State Capitol days after the primary — was invited to Monday’s rally, Bennet staffers said, but was unable to attend because of a prior obligation.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com