PORTLAND — Fresh off a successful debate with Republican Bob Dole, President Bill Clinton swept into Maine on Monday night to lead a spirited pep rally for Maine Democrats.
“Hello, Maine!” Clinton called out in greeting an estimated 7,000 supporters at Portland’s Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team.
First lady Hillary Clinton campaigned in Maine only a week earlier, and Clinton said, “Hillary told me she had such a good time I wanted to come up and see for myself.”
Clinton briefly donned a Portland Sea Dogs jacket and cap given to him by Rep. Elizabeth H. Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, assistant Democratic leader of the House.
“I’m glad to be back in Maine,” said the president.
After Sunday night’s televised debate, Clinton campaigned with businesspeople in Stamford, Conn., Monday morning, then made a whistlestop visit to Manchester, N.H., and flew on to Portland.
Clinton’s motorcade was about 20 minutes late, but the crowd had plenty of diversions as it waited.
Marching bands from Westbrook and South Portland high schools took turns belting out rousing songs. The Windham Choral Singers performed.
And the Westbrook cheerleaders led the crowd in the Macarena.
There was also plenty of foot stomping by the many young people in attendance, sign shaking and sparkling-streamer waving.
Clinton singled out six veteran Democrats in the crowd for special attention — former Gov. Kenneth Curtis, State Treasurer Sam Shapiro, Attorney General Andrew Ketterer, Secretary of State Bill Diamond, House Speaker Dan Gwadosky and Senate Minority Leader Mark Lawrence.
Clinton also had kind words for the three Democrats running for Senate and Congress.
Of Senate candidate Joseph E. Brennan, Clinton said, “We served as governors together. We have been friends for many years. He has the values, the vision and the direction to serve Maine well in the Senate.”
Clinton said he’d known 1st Congressional District candidate Tom Allen since the 1960s when they both were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University in England. Clinton said Allen always impressed him as someone who loved Maine.
The president said Rep. John E. Baldacci had played a key role on several close votes on getting the president’s package through Congress.
Clinton praised the cleanup efforts on the oil spill that struck Portland Harbor last week. And he said he’ll try to help workers at Waterville’s Hathaway Shirt Co. whose jobs are threatened.
Continuing to wind down from his first televised debate with Dole, the president said, “Both of us demonstrated we could be civil and decent with one another. That was a good thing.”
Clinton ticked off a number of improving indicators during his administration. For instance, he said that the crime rate is down, welfare rolls are smaller and the number of out-of-wedlock births is down.
“We are on the right track to the 21st century,” Clinton said.
“Will we stay on the path we’re on or will we take a U-turn back to the failed policies?” he asked.
Clinton mentioned two initiatives he wants to pursue. He wants to create 1 million jobs in the private sector for former welfare recipients. And he wants to recruit an army of volunteers to teach children to read.
“President Bill Clinton has started Maine and the rest of the country on a new path,” Brennan said.
“Now we have to give him four more years, and we have to give him more friends in the House and Senate.”
Clinton thanked Brennan for a gift of Maine lobsters he said he was taking south with him to Washington.
In a short speech, Baldacci said, “It’s a great day for Maine. It’s a great day for Portland.”
Baldacci said Clinton had stood by Maine in not recommending cuts at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Bath Iron Works and Brunswick Naval Air Station.
The 2nd District representative said Clinton also had stood by Maine’s senior citizens by not allowing cuts in Medicare and also had helped Maine students by blocking cuts in student loans.
“Mr. President, you’ve stood by Maine, and now Maine is going to stand by you and Al Gore and elect you in 1996,” Baldacci said.
There was a logistical snarl outside the gates before the program as thousands of spectators had to squeeze through only a half dozen metal detectors.
Former Maine Senate President Dennis L. “Duke” Dutremble was one of those caught in the crowd.
“I think it’s great for the state of Maine,” Dutremble said of the presidential visit. “It’s a special privilege for the people of Maine. It’s exciting. You can feel the electricity in the air.”
Bundled up against the chill night, Ruth Pope of Newcastle said, “I love Clinton. He’s wonderful. I want to see him re-elected.”
Not everyone was so enthusiastic.
Lars Bolton of West Buxton is a Republican who had to attend Monday night’s rally to write a paper at the University of Southern Maine.
Bolton said he voted for Clinton in 1992, but won’t this year because, “I have problems with character issues. He doesn’t seem to take responsibility for the actions of his subordinates.”