INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana Democrats are hoping Friday's love fest with former President Bill Clinton at North Central High School will be enough to push at least one of their top-ticket candidates to victory in a traditionally red state.
Clinton spent more than a half hour arguing that Republicans will divide the nation during a speech meant to fire up Indiana's embattled Democrats and, almost certainly, be converted into campaign commercial fodder.
Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly and gubernatorial candidate John Gregg flanked Clinton on stage, but Clinton spent most of his time talking about Indiana's tight Senate race.
Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement that "the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else" made for an easy target for the former president turned fulltime auxiliary campaigner for Democrats this cycle.
"I don't understand how you could say your biggest thrill in life is imposing your opinion on someone, especially if you don't necessarily know what you're talking about," Clinton said to laughs from the crowd of roughly 4,000 people who packed North Central's gym Friday morning.
Mourdock deputy campaign manager Brose McVey said his candidate's words were taken out of context.
"As Richard has said many times, that line is a joke he has used for years and was taken out of context," McVey said. "However, the president's visit reminds Hoosier voters that Richard Mourdock stands with Mitch Daniels, Dan Coats and Governor Romney, and Joe Donnelly will stand with Clinton, (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid, (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi and their allies."
Indiana Democrats surprised many by delivering the state for President Barack Obama in 2008, but that excitement receded in 2010 as Republicans retook the state's House of Representatives, a vacant U.S. Senate seat and two congressional seats.
Donnelly, who is locked in a tight race with Mourdock for Indiana's open Senate seat, looks like a highlight for Democrats this cycle.
"It never hurts to have Bill Clinton say good things about you," Donnelly said before Clinton took the stage.
Clinton continued what has become a Democratic strategy of heaping praise on U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar now that he is out of the general election, even citing the death of Osama bin Laden into the speech.
"When I saw this primary where Sen. Lugar's opponent was excoriating him for working with President Obama on national security matters -- do you really think it's a Republican or Democratic issue whether Osama bin Laden and lot of the leadership of al-Qaida is gone now or not? I thought that was an American issue!" he said.
Gregg, underdog to Republican Mike Pence in the governor's race, recently gained some traction in his first debate performance and got some plugs from Clinton, who campaigned with Gregg across Indiana in 2008 for Hillary Clinton.
"I'm here to tell you how honored I am to have President Bill Clinton with us here today!" Gregg said in introducing Clinton, as the crowd cheered loudly and thumped the high school bleachers.
"This is a pretty easy speech. I'm going to mention his name again," he said to louder applause.
Indiana Republicans, who built much of their recent success around Daniels' criticism of the state's former Democratic leaders, said Clinton cannot gloss over his party's failures here.
"It's funny that President Clinton lauded Democrats for `common sense' and `bipartisanship,"' Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said Friday. "What exactly was bipartisan about Joe Donnelly's party-line votes for Obamacare or the failed stimulus? What's `common sense' about John Gregg working to pass unbalanced budgets that left our state with a $820 million deficit?"
Patty Yount, 6th District vice chairwoman for the state Democratic Party, said Clinton is probably uniquely positioned to get an emphatic reception from Indiana Democrats based on his rural roots and his time visiting the state's Jefferson Jackson Dinner fundraisers when he was governor of Arkansas.
"I think we almost call him one of our own," she said.
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