DAVIS, Calif. (AP) – Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday urged California Democrats to vote, saying it is the only solution to political gridlock in Washington, D.C., as he rallied with vulnerable congressional incumbents who are at risk of losing their seats in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“This new politics of intense polarization funded by outside money designed to make you think that everybody in public life is some sort of a slug is nuts,” Clinton told a crowd of thousands at the University of California, Davis near Sacramento. He added that it is meant “to get you to voluntarily sit it out.”
Alongside Clinton onstage was Rep. Ami Bera, whose contest against former congressman Doug Ose has attracted $10.5 million in outside spending this year. It is among a handful of races nationwide in which outside groups have spent heavily in an effort to flip congressional seats.
Bera won by just 2 percentage points in 2012, and Republican-aligned groups have poured in millions for advertising on behalf of his Republican opponent.
Clinton stumped earlier in the day with Rep. Julia Brownley, whose Ventura County district also is among the races considered vulnerable for Democrats, and Pete Aguilar, who is running to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Gary Miller in another Southern California district that is considered a potential flip for Democrats.
Brownley welcomed Clinton’s support, telling a crowd of about 1,200 at Oxnard College that introducing him was “the greatest honor of a lifetime.”
The former president told an enthusiastic audience dominated by young Latinos that it was important for their futures to re-elect Brownley and send other Democrats to Congress, according to the Ventura County Star.
“We’ve got all our jobs back,” he said of the recovery from the recession. “Now we can create the future. We must do it with equal opportunity for all.”
California’s relatively new citizens-redistricting process has created several competitive congressional races, including many in districts almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Clinton is a prized surrogate for Democrats in swing districts who need help motivating voters to get to the polls. President Barack Obama is staying clear of such races as lawmakers seek to distance themselves from him.
A survey this month by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Obama’s approval rating is 44 percent among likely California voters, a record low for his presidency and down from 54 percent during the same month two years ago.
In the Bera-Ose race near Sacramento, the National Republican Congressional Committee seeks to link Bera to Obama in its final campaign ad, which pictures Bera with Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The spending in that contest by outside groups is the second-highest among all the House races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
“Congressman Bera has become part of the problem in today’s polarized Congress. He is a politician who works for Washington – not us,” Ose said in an email statement from his campaign.
House Speaker John Boehner made a round of fundraising appearances last month for California Republican candidates, including for Ose, Gorell and another of the GOP’s top candidates, Carl DeMaio, in a San Diego race.
In the Brownley-Gorell contest, outside groups have spent about $3.2 million. For several weeks, Gorell was on his own as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and another Democratic-aligned group, the House Majority PAC, poured resources into mailers and television ads critical of Gorell.
Adam Lotspike, a spokesman for Gorell’s campaign, said in an email that Clinton’s visit shows Brownley and other Democrats are panicked. “President Clinton’s visit is one more example of Brownley needing help from outside Ventura County because she has nothing to say on her own behalf,” he said.
With polls showing the race remains close, two Republican-aligned groups jumped in earlier this month and have spent almost $1 million on television commercials and fliers criticizing Brownley. One of the groups, the American Future Fund, is backed by Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch.
Clinton also campaigned with Reps. John Garamendi and Raul Ruiz, but they are both thought to be in a favorable position after national GOP groups decided to put their money elsewhere.
Several Democrats facing close contests for statewide office also appeared at the Davis rally before Clinton spoke. They included Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, state controller hopeful Betty Yee and state Sen. Alex Padilla, who is running for secretary of state.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington, D.C., and Judy Lin in Sacramento contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.