PORTLAND – Declaring that “the wheels have run off” the Republican agenda in Washington, former President Clinton urged Maine Democrats on Monday to enthusiastically support and promote Gov. John E. Baldacci’s re-election bid.
“Everything that has been ignored or worsened in Washington – the condition of the economy, the condition of the budget, health care, education, you name it – under John Baldacci’s leadership, Maine is addressing [it], and you’re making it better while it’s getting worse nationally,” Clinton said during his second fundraising swing through the state this year.
Clinton said an extreme Republican agenda in Washington has forced Democrats to become both the liberal and conservative party of America by default.
“The Republican Party in Washington is being controlled by the most ideological, the most right-wing sliver of their party,” he said. “So it’s not even fair to blame walking-around Republicans for what is going on. They want to concentrate wealth as much as possible, they want to have as much unaccountable power as possible, and they want to have ideology with which they can divide America and demonize those with whom they disagree. We’re not against people getting rich; we just think that everyone else ought to have a chance too.”
Clinton raised about $100,000 for the Maine Democratic Party at a private fundraiser before the governor’s event. A little more than 500 people attended the later function at the University of Southern Maine that raised about $80,000 for the Baldacci campaign, according to Jan Messerschmidt, one of the governor’s campaign spokesmen. Since Baldacci’s campaign is privately funded, Monday’s fundraiser will trigger matching money for his publicly funded opponents.
Clinton said Baldacci represented the “best of our party in both the progressive and conservative traditions” and credited the Bangor politician with crafting a balanced state budget with a Rainy Day Fund while facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit. The former president also praised Baldacci’s positive agenda and said he and other Democrats seeking office this year find themselves reflecting the positions of the majority of Americans because Republicans had moved so far to the right.
“If you’re a conservative on budget matters, you have to be a Democrat,” Clinton said. “If you’re a conservative on natural resources, you have to be a Democrat. If you’re for conserving our military resources, you have to be a Democrat. If you can’t figure out why their number one priority last year was getting rid of the estate tax for only 8,000 families – and they said we couldn’t afford to implement the 9-11 Commission recommendations on homeland security for 300 million people – you have to be a Democrat.”
Baldacci became friendly with Clinton while serving in Washington as Maine’s 2nd District congressman, and he credited the former president with providing inspiration as he crafted the Dirigo health care plan for Maine.
“If you want to know why we pursued quality affordable health care for all Mainers; if you want to know why we established empowerment zones so that we could spread prosperity and opportunity to regions of the state that hadn’t seen the economic tide; if you want to know why we established community colleges, it’s because we have a responsibility to make sure everyone has an opportunity to realize the American dream,” Baldacci said.
Before Clinton’s remarks, several prominent Maine Democrats rose to extol the accomplishments of the Baldacci administration. Maine House Speaker John Richardson of Brunswick and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of the 1st District said the governor had overcome enormous challenges by balancing two state budgets without imposing “new broad-based taxes.” Jean Hay Bright, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said she admired Baldacci for voting against the Iraq war as a member of Congress.
“It was a courageous act and I thank him utterly for that,” she said.
Republicans were not exactly silent during the Clinton visit. About a dozen youthful supporters of GOP gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock stood outside USM beating a drum and chanting “Dump Baldacci” as Democratic supporters made their way from the facility.
With the Nov. 7 general election three weeks away, the two major parties are bringing big-name politicians to the state to campaign.
Last week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry came to Maine for Democratic campaigns. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, part of the Kennedy political family, is scheduled to visit this week, party officials said.
On the Republican side, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is visiting the state on Wednesday. Vice President Dick Cheney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman also have made appearances in recent weeks.
Monday’s visit was Clinton’s second to Maine this year to raise money for Democrats. In May, he spoke at two fundraisers and raised more than $200,000 before paying a private visit to Kennebunkport with former Republican President George H.W. Bush.
Meanwhile, at Maine Republican Party headquarters in Augusta on Monday, Barry Flynn said the party would file a complaint against the Baldacci campaign with the state ethics commission after the organization learned a campaign worker had left recorded messages with state employees urging them to get their tickets for the Clinton visit.
Flynn said the party believed that soliciting state employees was a violation of Maine election laws, but Messerschmidt said the Baldacci campaign had contacted only people who were known to be supporters of the governor. Messerschmidt did not believe any state laws had been broken by the recorded message received by some state workers.