LEWISTON — Deploying the charismatic rhetoric that has made him a highly sought speaker at Democratic rallies nationally, former President Bill Clinton on Sunday attempted to energize an activist crowd at the Lewiston Armory.
If the latest polls are correct, the Democratic supporters and field workers in attendance weren't the only ones who needed the pep talk.
A crowd filling about one-third of the Armory attended the rally for Maine's slate of Democratic gubernatorial, legislative and congressional candidates. It was Clinton's second visit since he stumped for gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell during an event in Portland.
Sunday's rally was initially billed as a last-minute push for Libby Mitchell, whose Blaine House bid is endangered by Republican front-runner Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.
However, Clinton also devoted significant time talking up U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, two Democratic incumbents facing stiff challenges from GOP candidates thriving off an anti-incumbent sentiment that national pundits have compared to 1994, when congressional Democrats lost more than 50 seats.
Clinton called the GOP campaigns against the Democratic slate a "fact-free feast" peddled by corporate interests that are threatened by the national health care bill and Wall Street reform legislation.
"Whenever you're confused by something in this election, follow the money," he said.
The attack ads against the Democrats, he said, were "designed to play upon people's fears and anxieties" during a time of economic uncertainty. He later added that the Democratic policies enacted in the last two years were on the cusp of success.
"This election is happening in the time between when good things are done and when people start to feel it," he said. "Don't give up; don't reverse course."
Clinton also attempted to inspire young voters to hit the polls on Tuesday amid Democratic fears that they'll stay away. He said college graduation rates and affordability were at stake in this election.
"Any young person who doesn't vote in this election is playing Russian roulette with their future," he said. "You better show up."
Speaking for Mitchell, Clinton said her support for education and green energy development made her the only real choice for governor.
As for Republican attempts to portray Mitchell as a tax-and-spend liberal, Clinton said, "I haven't figured out why the tea party and the Republicans haven't endorsed her because she's the only candidate who's lowered taxes and cut government spending."
Clinton also took a swipe at Cutler, the Cape Elizabeth attorney who once worked for President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie, and the candidate pollsters and analysts say is splitting the Democratic vote.
"I knew (Cutler) from Washington," said Clinton, adding that Cutler was a lot like Clinton, a retired "millionaire" statesmen who was looking for "something else to do." Unlike Cutler, who left the Democratic party to become an independent, Clinton said he poured his efforts into his foundation and working for Democrats.
Clinton said Cutler abandoned his party to portray Mitchell "as representing the status quo."
"I'm here trying to help you people," Clinton said.
Although Clinton acknowledged that Democrats faced a difficult Election Day, he encouraged them to double their efforts.
"You can turn this election around in 24 hours," he said.
"Follow the money and follow your hearts," he later added. "Stand up and be there on Tuesday."
Earlier, Mitchell pleaded for Democratic unity.
"You know what's going to happen if we don't stick together," she said.
Without mentioning their names, Mitchell referenced former Gov. Angus King's recent endorsement of Cutler.
"People are making a lot about endorsements," she said, "but I have Bill Clinton and I have you."
Mitchell also attacked LePage and Cutler for their attempts to "distort" her record in the Legislature. She hit LePage on several fronts, including statements that he'd consider drilling for oil off the Maine coast. She also attempted to highlight LePage's role in Mainers' reliance on social programs like MaineCare.
"We have to stop allowing companies like Marden's and Walmart to take advantage of our social services safety net because they refuse to pay their employees a livable wage," she said.
LePage is the general manager at Marden's, a retail salvage store. According to data from the Maine Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services, Marden's employees are the fifth highest recipients of MaineCare. The company ranks 43rd in the state in number of employees.
LePage has said that number is high because many Marden's employees are part-time workers whose families are on MaineCare.
Pingree, Michaud and state Sen. Deb Simpson also spoke at the event. Each urged supporters to get out the vote and stay the course.
"The newspapers and pundits are already trying to write our final chapter," Michaud said. "But history has not been written yet. The ballots have not been counted, and the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."