New Haven – As always, Bill Clinton made it simple. He told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a first-term Democrat with uncertain re-election prospects in a slowly improving economy, that he had a good story to tell: Things were bad four years ago. You made them better. Just…tell…your…story.
Clinton offered Malloy this advice in various locales Tuesday around New Haven, starting with an unpublicized stop at Katalina’s bakery on Whitney Avenue, where the vegetarian convert examined vegan offerings, and continuing onto the stage at a modest fundraising rally downtown at the Omni Hotel.
Elections are always a choice, and Clinton told Malloy and Democrats that the choice in Connecticut is between a Democrat who did unpopular things in hard times and a Republican who bobs and weaves on what he would do on taxes, gun control, economic development and education reform.
It’s up to them to draw that contrast, sharply and vividly.
“We want somebody who’ll make the hard decisions when times are hard,” Clinton told the rally audience. “We want somebody who won’t look at the polls, but will look at the future and think about what’s good for the children. We want somebody who keeps score the way I always keep score: Are people better off when you quit than when you started? Do children have a brighter future? Are things coming together or being torn apart? By those tests, this man has more than earned the chance to finish the job he started four years ago.”
Malloy, of course, is trying to delay the final tally on his score for at least another four years. He is locked in a tight race with Republican Tom Foley, a rematch of a 2010 election that Malloy won by 6,404 votes. Foley’s campaign says Clinton’s visit was evidence of Malloy’s precarious standing with voters.
“It’s great to have a former president visit our state — and it’s good for Connecticut. It also shows how desperate Dan Malloy is to bring in people he thinks can help him save his campaign, which has been plagued by his record-breaking tax increase in 2011 and his failed polices, which have stalled economic growth, resulting in Connecticut having one of the worst job recovery rates in the nation,” said Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Foley.
Clinton told the crowd — a few hundred partisans who paid $50 to attend a midday event in a ballroom that was shrunk by sliding walls on two sides to make the room look full on television – that the race was theirs to win or lose. The polls that variously show the race a dead heat or place one or the other up by a few points assume a low turnout that they can alter, Clinton said.
“I’m preaching to the saved here,” Clinton said, making his entrance to the Fleetwood Mac tune that preceded him at every campaign stop in 1992, “Don’t Stop (waiting for tomorrow).” “You’ve got a few weeks to determine how this election comes out.”
On a bigger stage, he did the same thing for Barack Obama in 2012. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Clinton riffed and vamped far longer than his allotted time, always circling back to the same fundamental point, comparing Obama to the businessman who wanted to succeed him, Mitt Romney.
The election was a choice, and Clinton tried to make it simple.
“If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket,” Clinton said in Charlotte. “If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this- together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Malloy is trying elements of Obama’s 2012 template. He is making the case that a Republican administration left him with a bad budget and a bad economy – Malloy inherited the nation’s largest per-capita deficit in 2011 – but he is making progress, such as an unemployment rate that’s dropped by nearly 3 points.
The state Democratic Party also is trying to assemble a get-out-the-vote machine that rivals the president’s. Low turnout is fatal for Democrats, while beating turnout projections is the surest way to run ahead of the polls. Clinton reminded the crowd of that. He told them that is in their control.
Clinton reduced everything to the simple and familiar. He recalled going to New Hampshire after passing a gun control bill, timing his visit with the start of deer hunting season.
“My young staff thought I had lost my mind,” Clinton said.
But Clinton said he went to New Hampshire to ask the hunters if the push for background checks, for limits on military-style weapons and the size of ammunition magazines had cost the hunters a moment’s time in the woods.
He praised Malloy’s leadership after the Newtown school massacre, calling the resulting gun control measures well-crafted.
Clinton arrived in New Haven at 11 a.m., his black SUV pulling up to Katalina’s. Heads turned on the sidewalk as the deeply tanned Clinton exited, his full head of white hair bobbing above the vehicle’s roof line.
Wait.. is that?
Clinton gave a smile that told them, yes, it was. He walked inside the bakery, holding his jacket over his left shoulder. Malloy waited inside with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and two U.S. senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal. The latter has known Clinton sine they were Yale law students.
“Good to be back,” he told Harp. “We’re already telling stories.”
He draped an arm over Blumenthal’s shoulder, smiled and said that his classmate always seems 20 years younger than him.
“I forgave him years ago,” Clinton said.
Clinton waded through the bakery, pausing to make eye contact here, lay a hand on a shoulder there. He picked up a toddler, who pulled at his red necktie. “So cute, you like that red tie, don’t you?”
Clinton noted he’s about to become a grandfather, then handed the child to Malloy. The owner appeared, and Clinton was already aware that the bakery hosted birthdays. He turned 68 on Aug. 19.
As the photos began, Clinton reflexively reached left and drew Malloy into the frame.