By: Sharon Noguchi/ Mercury News
Touting education and job creation through green technology, former President Bill Clinton on Sunday night told San Jose State students they will bear some of the responsibility if Democrats lose their control of the House and the Senate on Election Day.
“There’s a reason people think that the Democrats are going to lose these houses,” Clinton said. “The reason is you.”
So Clinton urged the enthusiastic crowd of 5,000 — most of them students — to tweet, text and e-mail their networks of friends to vote Democratic on Nov. 2.
Clinton came to San Jose to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for lieutenant governor.
Clinton trumpeted Brown’s past achievements, praised his values and lambasted those of Republicans.
Clinton derided GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman’s plan to repeal the capital-gains tax in California, calling it a move that would benefit only the wealthy.
Speaking about himself and Brown, Clinton said, “We were raised to believe if you were fortunate, you were supposed to give back to your community.”
Newsom, who introduced Brown, railed against tuition increases at state universities and against Proposition 23, which would suspend California’s 2006 law putting a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions.
“Don’t listen to the naysayers,” Newsom said. “Don’t let them tell you we can’t lead the way in this new green economy.”
the attorney general, introduced Clinton, noting that the former president “took a lot of crap from a lot of people.”
Brown then acknowledged: “Yeah, I did a little myself.”
The two have had a tense relationship dating back to 1992, when both were seeking the Democratic nomination for president. At the time, Clinton accused Brown of raising taxes when he was governor in the ’70s and early ’80s. During a debate, Clinton had cited a CNN report — which the Mercury News recently exposed as erroneous.
After the Whitman campaign recently played that debate tape in an ad, Brown joked that Clinton didn’t always tell the truth, hinting at the sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Brown then was forced to apologize.
Whitman’s campaign alluded to that rift in discounting Clinton’s speech Sunday.
“If it weren’t for his party affiliation, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have anything to do with Jerry Brown,” said Andrea Jones Rivera, Whitman spokeswoman.
None of that mattered to San Jose State student Shara Tran, 19, who said she found it “inspiring to be here. From what I hear he (Clinton) was a really good president.”
But Tran, an independent voter, said she’s still unsure whom she’ll be voting for for governor or U.S senator.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is locked in a tight race with Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
More certain was an older member of the audience: Shirley Guadarrama, 51, of San Jose, a Brown and Boxer supporter.
Clinton, she said, was the best president the United States has ever had. “There were jobs,” she said. “Everything was plentiful at that time.”
Her daughter, Margarita Martinez, 18, will be casting her first-ever ballot but still remains undecided.
Still, she said she hopes her fellow students at San Jose City College are interested in the election because “every vote counts.”
Another question is whether the enthusiasm inside San Jose State’s Event Center will light any fires under the Democrat-leaning electorate. Among registered voters in California, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 13-point margin, but GOP voters are traditionally more reliable about actually punching their ballots. And Republicans this year seem to be far more enthusiastic about the election.
Brown now holds a slight lead over Whitman in the polls. But he must get his supporters out to vote, particularly those in the Democrats’ Bay Area stronghold.
Newsom is several points ahead of his Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, but Boxer is roughly even with Fiorina in the latest polls.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political-science professor, said that in addition to deciding the governor and Senate races, “turnout is critical to holding on to a couple of seats in Congress.”
Some Republicans are dismissive of the Democrats’ effort to turn out the vote.
“Democrats are trying everything short of electroshock therapy to wake up their base,” said Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party.
By bringing in top leaders, he said, Democrats are abandoning efforts to appeal to independents and are trying instead to activate their core supporters.
Not only has the stumbling economy fueled voter discontent while the tea party revs up Republicans, but Democrats are also dealing with disillusioned supporters who had high expectations for President Barack Obama.
With Obama’s 2008 victory, some felt that simply winning the White House would fix all their problems, Gerston said. “Many didn’t realize that presidents don’t have wands to wave — there’s this thing called Congress. You don’t get what you want just because you ask for it.”
With key seats at risk, other big guns in the Democratic Party are headed west.
Obama himself will arrive in the Bay Area on Thursday or Friday for a fundraiser, and first lady Michelle Obama is headed to California next week.