NEW HAVEN — Former President Bill Clinton returned to the Elm City on Tuesday to fire up the Democratic troops and raise money to help the tight re-election campaign of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy against Republican Tom Foley.
During his three years at Yale Law School in the early 1970s, Clinton worked on campaigns and honed his taste for politics. Clinton told the crowd that he met Hillary Rodham in New Haven 43 years ago, and they have been married for nearly 39 years. "It all started here,'' Clinton said, reflecting on his past. "I love Connecticut. You've been good to me in personal and political ways.''
Clinton then pivoted and told the party faithful they need to hit the streets and the telephones to spread the word for Malloy's campaign against Foley.
"I'm going to give an unconventional political speech because I'm preaching to the saved,'' Clinton said to the hard-core volunteers, adding that pollsters expect November's election turnout will be lower than during a presidential year.
He added: "Your job is to go out there and talk to people who are not in this room. You've got to decide. You do. … In some ways this election is even more important than the last one.''
Clinton's appearance generated a crowd of party activists, including members of the state's congressional delegation and former state AFL-CIO President John Olsen, the former state party chairman.
Aside from President Barack Obama, Clinton is the Democratic Party's biggest star and a guaranteed fundraiser known for drawing large crowds to events.
Devon Puglia, a Democratic Party spokesman, said "several hundred'' arrived at the $50-per-person rally in a truncated ballroom on the second floor of the Omni Hotel.
"We've had to turn people away,'' Puglia said, adding that Clinton had not planned any other higher-priced fundraisers Tuesday for the state Democratic Party.
After campaigning earlier at a small bakery with Malloy, Clinton told the crowd to rally around the Democratic governor.
"Based on what he has done, he should be re-elected by 10 points or more — going away,'' Clinton said. "He has proved he is a true leader.''
Clinton said that Malloy raised taxes on the rich in order to close the state budget deficit. At the same time, taxes were reduced on the poor because the state adopted the earned income tax credit, which sends refund checks to those who do not owe taxes. And he praised Malloy for raising the minimum wage.
Referring to the gun control law that Connecticut passed after the Newtown tragedy, Clinton said that he was the last president to pass substantial gun control laws.
"We passed the Brady Bill and the assault weapon ban … and the blood was on the floor,'' Clinton said. "This is crazy. You've got to have universal background checks.''
He added that Republicans "talk tough, but they govern soft. They tell voters you can eat all the candy you want, and you will never have to go to the dentist.''
Malloy is locked in a tight battle with Foley in a rematch of their 2010 race that was the closest gubernatorial election in Connecticut in more than 50 years.
Malloy told the crowd that Foley is not a proven job creator, based on his track record of running a holding company that oversaw a textile company known as Bibb.
"Go no further than Bibb,'' Malloy said. "He is not a job creator.''
After Clinton left the ballroom, Malloy talked to reporters briefly and said the former president's visit — coming early in the campaign season — gives his re-election effort a big boost. Clinton's visit in 2010 came just days before the election, but this year, the former president stumped right after Labor Day, the unofficial kickoff for the campaign season.