By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times –
LAS VEGAS — Nearly a week after President Barack Obama stopped his campaign’s momentum with a lackluster debate performance, Bill Clinton sought Tuesday to help him recover by offering a withering new critique of Mitt Romney.
“I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did,” the former president told nearly 2,000 supporters at a campaign rally for Obama and other Democrats. “I thought, ‘Wow, here’s old moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy?’ ”
Clinton compared Romney’s performance in Denver to a sales job at the Boston private equity firm where the Republican presidential nominee made his personal fortune.
“It was like one of these Bain Capital deals, you know, where he’s the closer,” Clinton said. “So he shows up, doesn’t really know much about the deal and says, ‘Tell me what I’m supposed to say to close.’ The problem with this deal is the deal was made by severe conservative Mitt,” alluding to Romney’s description of himself in February as a “severely conservative” governor of Massachusetts.
A few days before the debate, Clinton added, Romney advisers urged him to recast himself as a moderate.
With a mocking tone that drew hoots of laughter, Clinton imitated Romney saying, “I don’t have that tax plan I had for the last two years. Are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes here?”
Clinton, who electrified Democrats in August with a rousing testimonial for Obama at the party’s national convention, did not directly criticize the president. But he told the crowd what Obama might have told Romney as the Republican sought to reposition himself with a centrist’s tone on health care, education and other issues.
“I could have used you in that health care debate when I was trying to enact a national version of the Massachusetts law, and you were all of a sudden condemning what you had been for,” Clinton said. “And I miss you.”
Clinton’s appearance for Obama in Nevada was the latest in a string of events he has held for the president’s re-election. Clinton has also campaigned in Florida and New Hampshire, and he has helped Obama raise money.
Obama has held a consistent, if narrow, lead in Nevada polls for months. But Romney’s gains in national polls since the debate suggest the race for Nevada’s six electoral votes may well have tightened.
Clinton’s approach was often comical at the outdoor rally at a Las Vegas nature preserve a few miles from the strip. He ridiculed Republicans for the reaction by some to Friday’s drop in the nation’s unemployment rate below 8 percent.
“I was kind of embarrassed for them, weren’t you?” Clinton asked. “Oh, they were whining and moaning, ‘It’s a grand conspiracy; oh, they cooked the numbers.’ ”
Ryan Erwin, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign in Nevada, responded to Clinton’s critique by recalling that the former president once described Romney’s business record as “sterling.” He also said Nevada’s ailing economy remained a major hindrance to Obama in Nevada.
“If you drive through any neighborhood in Nevada, south or north, you’re going to find vacant homes, or homes for sale on short sale,” he said.
Nevada’s 12.1 percent unemployment rate is the highest of any state. It peaked two years ago at 14 percent, then slid to 11.6 percent in June before spiking upward again.
Romney has another distinct advantage in Nevada: Widespread support among the state’s large Mormon population.
A wild card, though, will be libertarians who backed Ron Paul for the Republican nomination, said Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada. In Nevada, some of them could opt for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, cutting into Romney’s support.
“If the race is really tight, that might matter,” Green said.
For his part, Obama is favored overwhelmingly by Nevada’s growing ranks of Latinos. And the Culinary Workers Union, a major force for Democratic campaigns in Nevada, is backing him.
Clinton’s rally at the Springs Preserve was plugged in the local media for days. Among those in the crowd was Darlene Love Smith, 49, a Las Vegas bus driver on disability.
“I’ve always loved Clinton,” she said. “He’s down to earth, and he says things like he’s out for the people — and I believe that he is.”