Lately I’ve traveled with Bill Clinton as he barnstorms the country to elect Democrats — especially including President Obama. On Sunday night, the former president and the man he is trying to re-elect together addressed the largest crowd ever recorded in New Hampshire’s political history when they drew 14,000 people to a rally in Concord.
On Monday, I watched Clinton speak before thousands of energized, cheering voters at rallies in Pennsylvania, where the presidential race seemed to grow tighter in the final hours before Election Day. He landed first in Pittsburgh, flew to Montgomery County, then drove down to Philadelphia and ended the day in Scranton – always with the same message:
“I want you to go out tomorrow and make Barack Obama president for four more years!”
Unlike some of the president’s more reluctant supporters — who affect a fashionable disenchantment with the bruised champion of “hope and change” — Clinton says he feels far more enthusiastic this year than in 2008. That difference might reflect the years elapsed since Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in a tough primary battle, although Clinton certainly worked hard to elect him in the general election last time.
Whatever he felt four years ago, Bill Clinton can readily articulate why Obama earned his fervent backing this year – and why he finds Mitt Romney utterly unacceptable. (See his detailed essay rebutting the Des Moines Register’s Romney endorsement.) In Pennsylvania, he repeatedly mocked Romney for refusing to say whether he would sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “It’s a simple yes or no answer,” chortled Clinton. “But he says, ‘I had a binder full of women.’” Laughter, catcalls, and applause exploded from the audience.
Clinton scolded Romney for advertising lies about Jeep moving American jobs to China that were so blatant they evoked protests from the presidents of General Motors and Chrysler. “You don’t have to be from Ohio to want a president who tells you the truth when it comes to jobs for the future,” he roared.
For two months, Clinton has jetted across the swing states from Florida, Virginia, and Ohio to Nevada and Colorado, talking himself hoarse. During the campaign’s closing hours, however, he recorded dozens of robocall messages to voters in the non-swing states, specifically in New York and New Jersey — promoting Democratic Senate and Congressional candidates, and simply encouraging voters in the storm-wracked Northeast to find a way to cast their ballots.
In what pollsters predict will be such a close contest, Clinton’s message is not just another civics lecture, but terribly urgent. Whether you live in a blue state, a red state, or a purple state, it is vital for you to vote in this election. The reason is simple. Although President Obama appears likely to win enough electoral votes for a Constitutional victory, he could quite conceivably receive fewer popular votes than Romney. That prospect is more likely now because Superstorm Sandy has badly damaged voting sites and processes in New York and New Jersey, where the president may be deprived of hundreds of thousands of votes as a consequence.
If President Obama wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote, nobody should expect the Republicans to behave as magnanimously as Al Gore and the Democrats did in 2000, when George W. Bush lost the popular vote but was awarded the electoral vote — and the presidency — by a partisan, truth-twisting Supreme Court majority of one.
There is a danger, in fact, that a popular vote margin for Romney, no matter how small, might embolden a Republican governor in a state where Obama had won — perhaps Ohio or Florida — to instruct his Republican-dominated legislature to choose electors committed to Romney rather than the president. The right has rarely hesitated to violate Constitutional and democratic principles for the sake of power. Indeed, the Ohio secretary of state — like Republican officials across the country – has already sought to deprive citizens of that state of their voting rights.
So wherever you live, do not fail to vote. Make sure that your family and friends and neighbors vote. The focus on swing states is understandable, but it is only half the story of this election. Every ballot cast, in every state, is certain to make a difference this time.
Photo: Bill Clinton addresses an overflow crowd in Scranton, PA on Election Eve