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Clinton Implores TN Democrats to Reshape Election Debates

The 64-year-old 42nd president of the United States says Mike McWherter, the underdog Democratic nominee for governor, can win if supporters make job-creation the central issue of the campaign.

About 1,500 or so Democratic Party die-hards waited for nearly two hours under threat of downpour in downtown Nashville Thursday night to hear former President Bill Clinton suggest ways they may dodge the storm clouds gathering on the electoral horizon.

In order to do that, Clinton said, party enthusiasts are going to have to focus a lot of energy battling the “anger, apathy and amnesia” gripping the country right now.

Clinton was in town to give a boost to the profile and political fortunes of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter in his uphill battle against Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, the Republican primary winner.

However, Clinton’s themes were no doubt similar to what he’s been pitching wherever he’s taken stage lately — most recently this week in Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama.

“I am concerned about this election only because of the relentless opposition and complaints and criticism of the other party and their minions in media,” said the one-time Democratic commander-in-chief. They have “created the feeling that somehow everything is not right and it is the fault of the Democrats.”

Clinton said he “gets the anger” pulsing through the electorate and focused on the party that controls the United States government right now. However, decisions made in anger are usually wrong — and if voters act on that anger at the polls, they’ll regret it, he said.

But the responsibility for breaking out of the apathy and combating the political amnesia rests with Democratic activists, he added.

“I believe that Mike McWherter will win this race if you, between now and election day, can convince most Tennesseans to change the subject from anger, apathy and amnesia, to the following: What are we going to do now, and who is most likely to do it?” said Clinton. “If those are the questions, Mike wins. If it is about anger, apathy and amnesia, we’re all toast. And we’ll all pay the price.”

Republicans are the ones primarily responsible for the country’s economic woes and the government’s bleak fiscal picture, charged Clinton.

“They only care about (balancing) the budget when (Democrats) are in, and then they want to get rid of education and privatize Social Security and Medicare…and give people in my income group another tax cut,” he said.

The GOP is “a very ideological party,” and “they are impervious to evidence,” Clinton said.

Clinton praised the stimulus package and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which he credited with “saving the financial system and keeping interest rates near zero.” Together, those government interventions into the economy prevented 8.5 million more people from being unemployed, he asserted.

However, Clinton made little mention of President Obama directly, and was more or less mum on the subject of the health reform package, the wisdom and workability of which McWherter and outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen, also on hand for the event, have themselves questioned.

Indeed, Clinton at one point made something of a joke at Obama’s expense. “I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to (Mike McWherter) and his father and his family for the support I received — and the support my candidate received in 2008,” Clinton said. He added, to audience laughter and applause, “I still think she’s doing pretty well as secretary of state, by the way.”

Clinton said the most important duty a governor shoulders is bringing jobs to a state. That’s something the two-term president said McWherter has a much better understanding of than Haslam.

“If you look at every analysis (and) all the job growth for the next 10 years, the most potential is in three areas: small business, manufacturing … and clean energy,” said Clinton. McWherter “is the only candidate that’s actually got a plan to increase assistance to help small business expand and to make America more energy independent through the use of Tennessee-grown biofuels, and those are two of the three areas where we are going to get our job growth. Nobody else is talking about that.”

Andrea Zelinski shot video and contributed reporting to this story.

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