Former President Bill Clinton told a partisan audience of 2,000 at the University of Hartford on Sunday night that Republicans have waged “a fact-free campaign” to convince America they are blameless for the recession.

At a stop to promote Democrat Dan Malloy’s candidacy for governor, Clinton spent as much time defending embattled congressional Democrats, his own legacy and the man who defeated his wife for president, Barack Obama.

“The way Republicans tell it, every Democrat is responsible for everything that happened in the economy from the second our new president took his hand off the Bible,” Clinton said.

Clinton never mentioned George W. Bush by name, but he referred to the dramatic slowing of the economy and the explosion of debt after he left office, describing his successor and congressional Republicans as putting America in a deep hole.

Clinton Malloy

Bill Clinton and Dan Malloy. (Mark Pazniokas)

“We did stop digging, unlike them,” Clinton said. “All we’re asking for is to give us a couple of years. You gave them eight years to dig the hole, give us four years to get out.”

Clinton, 64, was notorious for his inattention to schedules as president, but he took the stage with Malloy precisely at 7 p.m. in the basketball field house at the University of Hartford.

From there, he drove to another rally in Norwalk on the way to his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.  His voice raspy from constant campaigning in recent weeks, Clinton spoke fondly of Connecticut.

“I’m here because I like and admire Dan Malloy, but I’m very grateful to Connecticut. You supported me twice. This state was good to me. It gave me a law-school education,” Clinton said. “If I had never come to Connecticut, I never would have met Hillary and my whole life would have been different.”

Clinton met his wife attending law school at Yale. He was preceded to the microphone Sunday night by one of his classmates: Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic nominee to succeed U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.

Left unsaid was that Connecticut was not as good to Hillary Clinton. Obama won an important victory here in the 2008 presidential primary, softening the blow of losing to Clinton in Massachusetts, despite the efforts of Ted Kennedy.

“This is not my life any more,” Clinton said.

His foundation takes him around the world, fighting poverty in the third world and childhood obesity in the developed world. A feared cholera epidemic in Haiti is a major concern.

“I worry about these things, and that’s my life now,” Clinton said. “Originally, all I planned to do was to go around and do a few events for the people who two years ago helped my wife in the election.”

Now, on the Sunday night before the election, he has criss-crossed the country, appearing 125 times for Democrats, many of whom prefer him over Obama as a partner on the campaign trail.

For much of his 35-minutes speech, Clinton was more professorial than political, explaining the recession as slow to build. It took Japan 10 years to recover from its last downturn; Obama should not be expected to turn around the U.S. economy in 21 months.

Instead, Clinton said, Republicans acted like Obama should be able to get behind a locomotive that going’s downhill at 200 miles per hour and stop it in 10 seconds.

“This is the environment in which your new governor will take office,” Clinton said.

Clinton spoke without notes for nearly 15 minutes, then slipped on reading glasses to consult notes about Malloy’s tenure as mayor of Stamford.

He praised Malloy’s record of job creation and his advocacy of universal pre-school in Stamford. He contrasted Malloy’s public service with Republican Tom Foley’s record in business.

“It matters who your governor is,” Clinton said.

Clinton said the projections of a bad year for Democrats can be overcome if everyone in the audience helps get their friends to the polls.

“Connecticut is not a large state. The only thing that matters at this rally tonight is what you do when you leave here,” Clinton said. “You’ve got one whole day. You’ve got election day.”

It was the same message delivered earlier by Malloy.

“In 36 hours, our polling places will open for perhaps the biggest and most important state election of our lifetimes,” Malloy said. “It is a decision about whether Connecticut will change direction or go down the same road that has gotten us absolutely nowhere for the last 16 years.”

Go home, he said, and email everyone you know.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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