Former President Bill Clinton told Ohio voters Saturday the upcoming election would mark a decision of progression or regression for the country.
“This is a change election, all right,” he told the crowd of more than 500 guests. “The question is, are we going to change forward and build on the good things that President Obama has done, or are we going to go backwards?”
Clinton was in Columbus campaigning for his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, at a vote early rally at King Arts Complex, just east of Downtown. The event was hosted by Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, a Democrat who represents Ohio’s 3rd District, which includes much of Ohio State’s campus and the University District.
“It’s time for us to stand up. It’s time for us to know that we have to get out the vote,” Beatty told the crowd before introducing the former president.
Bill Clinton spoke in line with his wife’s campaign slogan, “stronger together,” while promoting unity and solidarity heading toward Nov. 8.
“When Hillary says, ‘Stronger together,’ it’s about having an economy for everyone, and a society everybody can be proud to live in,” he said. “It’s a way of life and a way of thinking, and it’s quintessentially American.”
He also criticized what he saw as a romanticization of the past embedded in the Republican presidential nominee’s catchphrase slogan, and said it holds false promises concerning social and economic development.
“When (Donald Trump) says, ‘Make America great again,’ hey, I’m a 70-year-old white Southerner. I know what that means,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘You’ve got to vote for me because I dislike the same people you dislike, and I’ll move you back up the social totem pole and move other people down.’”
The former president was met with interruptions from two hecklers during his speech, despite focusing portions of his message on the building of “bridges, not walls.” The two men were promptly escorted out of the complex. Bill Clinton joked that the man who first interrupted him might have accidentally attended the wrong rally.
“If you get someone screaming at you, like I did, do not respond in kind,” he said. “Say, ‘The difference in our campaign and yours is we want you to go along on our trip to the future. We think we are stronger together, and it isn’t right that you’ve been left out and left behind. But answers are better than anger, and empowerment is better than resentment.’”
Hillary Clinton’s proposed economic plans, including pushing for investments in U.S. infrastructure and education, were among points highlighted by her husband. The state of Ohio, specifically, came up as he said the resurrection of U.S. manufacturing, especially in the Midwest, will need to be aided by generating more efficient energy and, in turn, cutting costs in production.
He also said Hillary Clinton is devoted to developing affordable drug treatment programs and increasing mental health services in U.S. communities.
But, more than anything, he promoted the importance of voting, and voting early.
“If you carry Ohio for Hillary, she’ll be the next president of the United States,” he said.
The event also featured members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is currently running for one of Ohio’s seats in the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
The Congressional Black Caucus is expected to join Beatty after the rally during meetings with minority small-business owners in Columbus and members of central Ohio’s Somali population. On Sunday, caucus members are set to launch “Souls to the Polls,” a campaign to encourage Ohioans to vote early after church in the dwindling weekends before Nov. 8.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper also spoke before the former president, highlighting the potentially pivotal role Ohio voters could play the election. In central Ohio, early voting is up 44 percent in Franklin County this year, compared to this time in 2012, he said.
“If everyone here gets 5 people to vote early, and then those people vote early, the power in this room, alone, could change the outcome of this election,” he said. “That is why we’re all here. You have the power today.”
Bill Clinton spoke in Cleveland Saturday morning and is scheduled to continue through Ohio from Columbus to speak in Cincinnati at 5 p.m., Hillary Clinton’s campaign said.
Near the end of his speech, Bill Clinton mentioned Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, adding that the singer-songwriter’s lyrics “may you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung” struck a chord with him as metaphor for the country’s ability to raise itself under a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“I’m telling you, you’ve got a chance to vote for a person, who, from the time she was 30, had done more to advance the public interest than her opponent has in a lifetime,” he said.
“And you have a chance to keep America ‘Forever Young.’”