Bill Clinton to Arkansans: ‘Vote your heart’

SHAFAQNA –  Former President Bill Clinton on Monday warned Arkansans to avoid taking a “protest vote” against national Democrats in the midterms, urging them instead to “vote your heart” and back Democrats running at home. Drawing rousing applause in a fiery speech here at the University of Central Arkansas, the beloved former governor of this state urged the crowd to vote “for what you are for, not for what you are against.”

He said that since the civil rights tumult of his childhood, he has been “sick and tired of people trying to stir people up, make them foam at the mouth and vote for what they’re against instead of what they are for. How many times have we seen people do something they knew better than to do just ‘cause they were in a snit?”

Clinton spoke on behalf of candidates including Sen. Mark Pryor, who is locked in one of the closest Senate races of the cycle against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton; former Rep. Mike Ross, who is running for governor; and House candidate Patrick Henry Hays. He was joined at the podium by popular Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, also Democrat.

“They want you to make this a protest vote,” Clinton said of Republicans. “…They’re saying, ‘You may like these guys, but hey, you know what you gotta do, you gotta vote against the president. After all, it’s your last shot.’ It’s a pretty good scam, isn’t it?”

“Vote your heart,” he urged the crowd. “Don’t vote for what they tell you you have to be against. Vote for what you know you should be for.”

Arkansas has tacked sharply right over the last several years of President Barack Obama’s administration, becoming one of the last states in the South to turn red. Clinton is seeking to counteract that trend in the midterms this year through fundraisers, campaign appearances, and this week’s intense, two-day swing through four cities.

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Clinton said Cotton is asking voters to “give me a six-year job for a two-year protest.”

Offering an impersonation of the Republican congressman, Clinton ran through a litany of positions Cotton has taken, and concluded, dripping with sarcasm: “‘No, I’ll never vote for equal pay for equal work. Are you kidding? Would I vote to raise the minimum wage? No way. But I’ll give you one more protest vote. But you gotta give me six years for a protest that will be irrelevant in two.’”

The former president said that Ross’s opponent, Asa Hutchinson, is making the same argument for a “four-year job that doesn’t have a lick to do with Washington, D.C., so you can have one more protest.”

Clinton slammed the role outside groups have taken this election cycle and the millions of dollars spent by conservative groups on ads designed to influence the races. He went on to mock voters explaining that they couldn’t vote in their best interests because of what “all this out-of-state money buying television ads tells me to.”

“‘I’d like to think about Arkansas, I’d like to think about our future, I’d like to think about what would be best for our children and grandchildren,’” he said. With his voice dropping to a whisper, the impersonation continued: “‘But I just can’t do it.’”

(Also on POLITICO: Clinton Library sets new document release)

Despite the unpopularity of the national Democratic Party here in Arkansas, Bill Clinton maintains major cache in the state. His presidential library is here, he and his wife Hillary Clinton —a possible 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner — frequently visit, and he has taken a deep personal interest in many Arkansas races for months, people close to him say.

His fans note that in 2012, Clinton gave a highly effective speech at the Democratic National Convention, explaining the new health care law in such an accessible fashion that Obama joked he should have the title “Secretary of Explaining Stuff.”

Clinton tapped into that mode on Monday, outlining the various ways the country and the economy have improved over the last several years.

“I don’t expect anybody to vote on that” because not everyone has seen evidence of that yet, he said. “But I’m telling you the truth.”

Clinton will also visit universities in Jonesboro and Fayetteville and stop by the northwest city of Rogers to stump for the candidates during his two-day swing.

Republicans see Arkansas as a major pick-up opportunity in their quest to reclaim the Senate. Pryor, the son of Arkansas legend David Pryor, a former governor and senator, is working to keep the race as locally focused as possible.

Pryor, who spoke ahead of Clinton, asked the former president — who has just become a grandfather — to take a “selfie” with him.

Clinton told reporters after the speeches that he would be “surprised” if Pryor didn’t win “if we get good turnout,” and he praised the incumbent senator for “trying to work with everybody, be fair to everybody.”

“Now, that’s not what the outside ads say, but that’s what the real facts are,” Clinton said, before going on to take selfies with students — even admonishing one to move an arm out of the picture — and thank soldiers for their service.

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