Clinton touts Obama’s economic record

Former President Bill Clinton gestures while speaking at a campaign rally for President Obama at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.
(John Raoux / Associated Press Photos)

ORLANDO -- Saying that Mitt Romney’s economic plan boils down to hoping to “get credit for the 12 million jobs Barack Obama has laid the foundation for,” former President Bill Clinton exhorted Floridians to re-elect the incumbent as Democrats seek to close the gap in the country’s largest swing state.

Romney has made his promise of 12 million new jobs over the next four years a centerpiece of his campaign, but Clinton derided the goal, saying the economy is on track already to hit that goal “if they just don’t mess it up.” Obama should get credit for getting the country to this point, where signs of recovery are increasing, he added.

“I say, let’s give the job to the man who’s done the job so he can finish the job,” the former president told a crowd estimated at 7,600 gathered on a sunny but chilly morning on the campus of the University of Central Florida.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy

Clinton was originally scheduled to introduce Obama, but early Monday morning, as storm conditions from Hurricane Sandy worsened along the Mid-Atlantic coast, White House officials decided to get the president back to Washington, leaving his Democratic predecessor to appear solo.

For just over a half hour, Clinton reprised portions of his highly praised speech from last month’s Democratic convention, centered on his argument that an economic strategy built around the idea that “we’re all in this together” will bring more prosperity than what he characterized as the Republican idea of “you’re on your own.”

“I hope I have some credibility on this,” he said, referring to his own record of having been president during the country’s most prosperous recent stretch.

“Budgets based on arithmetic work better than those based on illusion,” he said, accusing Romney of trying to “hide the numbers” on his own plan.

The campus here, with its focus on technology and innovation, is a favorite of Clinton’s, who campaigned here for Obama four years ago. He quipped at one point that “I ought to be on the payroll” for having attracted favorable publicity to the school. He used the college’s program to illustrate the dangers of Republican budget plans that he said would “gut” government support for research and development of future technologies.

The Orlando area is key for Democratic hopes here in a state where Romney has held a small, but persistent, lead in most polls. The Republican campaigned in the area over the weekend.

Orlando and surrounding Orange and Osceola counties are home to large and growing black and Puerto Rican populations who turned out heavily for Obama in 2008. In the four years since, those populations have continued to grow while traditionally Republican areas of north Florida have not.

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Monday’s event, like most Obama campaign rallies in the closing weeks of the election, doubled as a get-out-the-vote operation. A large Vote Early sign dominated the central campus area where the rally took place, and speakers before and after the event urged those present to take advantage of buses available to take people to the polls.

Clinton stressed two issues that Democrats hope will be particularly attractive to Latino voters -- Obama’s healthcare law and his reforms of the student loan program.

He reminded the crowd, which included a large percentage of students, that under the healthcare law, people up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ insurance plans. Romney says he supports that part of the law but argues the private sector would maintain the coverage if the law is repealed.

Clinton’s description of the health law brought applause, but the loudest cheers came when he talked about Obama’s expansion of the government’s Pell grant program and lowered interest rates on subsidized student loans. Changes taking effect this year will allow graduates to pay back a fixed portion of their incomes each year and have the balance of their loans forgiven eventually if they take relatively lower paying jobs, he reminded them.

As a result, Clinton said, a student who goes to medical school and wants to work in an inner-city clinic will be able to do so without having to worry about loan repayments.

Romney “wants to make college loans more expensive and harder to repay,” he said, drawing boos from the crowd. “On this issue alone, every person within the sound of my voice should vote for Barack Obama.”


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