Laying out a more traditional liberal policy case than President Barack Obama normally offers on the campaign trail, former president Bill Clinton urged 7,600 people at the University of Central Florida Monday to re-elect Obama based on his education, energy, environmental, health care and economic record.
Clinton was the lone headliner at what has been scheduled as a two-presidents rally. But Obama canceled early Monday morning and flew back to Washington to prepare disaster response for Hurricane Sandy.
The crowd, perhaps less than the Obama campaign hoped when planning Obama and Clinton together, nevertheless cheered Clinton's 33-minute speech enthusiastically.
Clinton connected with the student-heavy crowd by describing Obama's higher-education policies, including the student-loan reform that tied payments to income and saved $60 billion that was then used for Pell grants and research. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he charged, wants to repeal the student-loan reforms.
"On this issue alone, every person within the sound of my voice should vote for Barack Obama for president of the United States," Clinton said.
Those votes are looking increasingly critical to Obama's re-election prospects. Recent polls have varied but generally show the Florida race tight. A CNN poll released Monday showed Romney up by one point, 50-49, while a Public Policy Polling survey gave Obama a one-percentage point lead. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, opening for Clinton Monday, said his internal polling showed Obama up.
Clinton also urged reduction in carbon-based fuels and concerns for long-term climate change.
"America is the only major country in the world where any major political party is denying climate change instead of arguing about what to do about it," he said. "Barack Obama is doing something about it."
Clinton also accused Romney of intending to gut everything from health-care reform to science and technology research.
"I'm not mad at anybody. Shucks. I don't blame Gov. Romney for wanting to be president. I did, too," Clinton said. "But this is not about the candidates. It's about you and your future."
The rally opened with speeches from Nelson and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the ex-Republican whose split with the GOP began when he enthusiastically welcomed Obama to Florida with a hug in 2009.
Crist, who many think is positioning himself to run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat, worked up the crowd by declaring the election was about "optimism" and calling Obama "our great president."
"In this campaign, optimism is up!" he said. "Pessimism is down! ... Barack Obama, up! Mitt Romney, down!"
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