EVERETT — Former President Bill Clinton can still bring it.
On Monday, in front of 2,000 people packed into a Paine Field hangar, he put forth a roaring defense of Democratic ideals in a spirited rally to energize get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Sen. Patty Murray.
“She’s done a good job for America,” he said.
Clinton arrived by car shortly after 3 p.m. and triggered thunderous applause when he and Murray took the stage amid the historic aircraft and military equipment in the hangar housing the Flying Heritage Collection.
In a nearly 35-minute speech, he argued that the federal stimulus, health care overhaul and Wall Street reform pushed through in the past 21 months will make the country stronger, though it takes time for the effects to be felt by everyone.
“There’s always a gap between when you vote for change and you start implementing it and you feel it,” he said. “And since we have elections every two years, this election is occurring in the gap.”
Republicans are trying to capitalize on voters’ frustration with the slow pace of improvement, he said.
“I have seen this movie before,” he said, a reference to 1994 when Republicans swept into power in the House of Representatives just two years after he became president.
Now, like then, he said, the GOP strategy is to cast this election as a “referendum on everything that’s bothering you about life right now. Take everything that’s not working for you right now and put Patty Murray’s face on it and make this a referendum.
“It is not a referendum. It is a choice between two different sets of ideas,” he said. “Don’t be fooled. Don’t be played. Don’t stay home.”
His visit comes with voters already casting ballots in the nationally watched contest between Murray and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, the winner of which could determine which party controls the majority in the Senate in 2011.
Clinton is the first of several Democratic heavyweights stumping for Murray in the coming days.
Today Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be in Vancouver, Wash., President Barack Obama is headed to the University of Washington on Thursday and first lady Michelle Obama is expected to attend an event in Bellevue on Monday.
Rossi was at a senior center in Seattle’s Chinatown on Monday morning.
“Of course, Sen. Murray has to bring in the big guns again to bail her out, which begs the question of which Washington she represents,” said his spokeswoman Erin Daly.
When Clinton finished his speech, he waded into the adoring crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs. He received starlike treatment on this latest stop of a nationwide tour to pump up Democrats and erase the “enthusiasm gap” with energized Republicans this year.
“He laid it out in black and white,” said Vickie Anderson of Stanwood, adding she rejects pundits’ predictions of a poor Democratic showing. “I think we’ll hold our own out here.”
Miles Fernandez, 19, of Brier, a University of Washington sophomore, already figured he’d vote for Murray, and Clinton convinced him for certain when he spoke of Democratic-passed reforms to help college students deal better with their school loans.
But fellow sophomore, Caitlin Bowman, 19, of Mountlake Terrace, wasn’t swayed.
“I wanted to hear both sides. I’m actually not voting for Patty Murray,” she said. “I feel like she’s been in so long, and I think Dino Rossi would be more helpful.”
Outside the hangar before the event, five small business owners protested Murray’s record.
“We are just frustrated,” said Bob Mighell, one of the self-dubbed “Business Owners in Tennis Shoes” and owner of World Medical Equipment in Marysville.
He said he’s phoned, e-mailed and written letters to her and received no response on several matters, including new paperwork requirements on companies embedded in the federal health care reform act.
“When she says she’s all about creating jobs and helping small businesses, it’s just not true,” he said.
Vennie Murphy of Puyallup had nothing but compliments for Murray.
The 31-year employee of Boeing and Machinists Union member said she’s kept the company in the running for the contract to build new Air Force refueling tankers.
“She’s done a lot for us,” he said. “She fought to keep the tanker deal going. Otherwise it’d probably be built in France right now.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.