Political Capitol

Brian Lockhart covers the Connecticut General Assembly in Hartford

Bill Clinton brings the wonk


Former Democratic President William Jefferson Clinton was in New Haven today to rally the party faithful and endorse his friend of 40 years, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in his bid for U.S. Senate.

After speaking kindly of Blumenthal and making the case for his election, Clinton dove into an energetic, meaty, wonkish, sometimes rambling, 20-or-so minute speech attempting to explain why Democrats will continue to move the country forward when it comes to the economy, job creation and healthcare, while Republicans will only take the nation backwards.

Not once did Clinton mention Blumenthal’s opponent, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, by name. He attempted a professional wrestling joke which, honestly, I missed because I cannot type as fast as he speaks. But the reporter sitting next to me didn’t quite catch it, either, so it must have been pretty inconsequential.

Afterward I grabbed some audience members to gauge their reaction.

Clinton told the crowd of a couple thousand that he knew he was already preaching to the faithful, and their job was to go out and spread the message to voters.

One woman – Eloise Suh – told me she thought the speech at times was “too broad” and did not focus enough on Blumenthal.

But, she added: “All the details he gave us made us think about what the candidate can do in this economy.”

Jordan Moye, a student at the school where Clinton spoke – Wilbur Cross High  – is only 16 but he seemed to have no problem grasping what the former President had to say.

“I totally agree with what he said,” Moye said, adding that during his Advance Placement Government and Politics class he took a test that recently revealed he is an up-and-coming liberal Democrat.

State House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, was wowed by Clinton’s appearance.

“That’s Bill Clinton. He’s the old Bill Clinton we know and love,” Merrill said. “He takes the whole world, wraps it up and puts it in terms people can understand … And he goes on for way too long. I thought it was brilliant.”

I asked labor leader John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO if he feared Clinton’s detailed message will be lost on angry voters frustrated with the slow growth of the economy and looking for change in Washington.

That is McMahon’s selling point – that she, unlike Blumenthal, is a political outsider who will bring executive experience to Congress and use it to boost the economy and create jobs.

Olsen was impressed by Clinton, but said Democrats need to boil down his words into easy-to-understand talking points.

“If you’re going door-to-door, you don’t have that much time,” Olsen said.

Categories: General
Brian Lockhart