From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Amid a festive crowd celebrating Dyngus Day in the Hoosier State, Bill Clinton yesterday morning upped the ante on seating delegates from Florida and Michigan, criticizing his party's "strategy of denying and disempowering and disenfranchising the voters" there. His argument to seat Florida's delegates in particular came as he continued to claim that his wife would be the most electable general election candidate.
Clinton curiously said Democrats "let New Hampshire go out of turn," adding that they have a Democratic Secretary of State. "The Florida voters are totally innocent. They asked to vote on time," he said.
The Democratic National Committee's preliminary calendar called for New Hampshire to vote on Jan. 22. But that Democratic secretary of state, Bill Gardner, moved the first-in-the-nation primary to Jan. 8 when Michigan settled on Jan. 15. The DNC chose not to sanction New Hampshire, since the calendar rules were originally set in part to protect the Granite State's tradition of being the first-in-the-nation primary.
Clinton was joined by his daughter, Chelsea, and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend campaigning in what locals dubbed the "Dyngus Day Capital of the World." Though Dyngus Days elsewhere have reportedly included drenching women with water, the event locally featured just brats, beers and Polish music. The event here is closely associated with politics, as well, which is what drew Townsend's father, Robert F. Kennedy, to South Bend 40 years ago.
"My heart leaps up when I come to South Bend for Dyngus Day," Townsend said. "No other ethnic group voted in larger numbers for Kennedys than the Poles. I don't know what that says about the Irish, but thank you very much.
Townsend and a local priest also led the crowd in singing "Stolach," which the priest said some confuse with the national anthem of Poland, but Townsend admitted it was a drinking song. "But we'll sing it anyway!" she said, before bursting into song. When Clinton took the stage, he thanked her for singing, so he didn't have to.
Candidates for congress and governor spoke before Clinton, as did former Rep. Tim Roemer, an Obama supporter. He said the choice between the Democrats was "tough." But he cited the debate over NAFTA, which Clinton saw through as president but he voted against, as a tipping point. "[I] told [Clinton], respectfully, 'I'm with my people. I'm with people in Indiana," Roemer said. "That vote against NAFTA was one of the best votes that I cast throughout the 1990s. That was the right vote for our people."
Bill: McCain, 'oldest president'
ROCHESTER, Ind. -- In the past week, Bill Clinton has seemed to go out of his way to praise John McCain as he tries to buttress his wife's claims to electability. Yesterday, he invoked McCain's name again, but drew attention to something the Arizona senator will have to contend with.
"Final thing I want to say, and maybe most important of all, is -- I really do believe she oughta win," Clinton told nearly a thousand at Rochester Community High School (home of the Zebras). "We're going to have a historic election regardless. We're gonna elect either our oldest president ever, or our first African American president, or our first woman president."
Clinton regularly talks about the possibility of a woman or African American being president, but rarely has highlighted the potential for history on the Republican side.
He continued to say that all the candidates are "very compelling, each in their own way," and said for the first time, he felt he wouldn't have to "be against anyone" in an election. Then, he again talked about his wife's work with McCain, particularly on climate change.
"They like and respect each other. But she thinks he's wrong to say we should stay in Iraq for a hundred years, and she thinks he's wrong to support the Bush economic policies," he said. "And I believe that she has enough credibility on both to defeat him in November."
As he did earlier today, the former president again included the controversy over delegates in Michigan and Florida in raising concern about an Obama candidacy for the Democrats.
"It'd be a terrible thing for us to have gone to all this trouble this year, turn around and lose this election," he said. "She can win, partly because she hasn't made anybody in Florida and Michigan mad by saying it's okay to disenfranchise."
He then pointed to polls in Ohio and Arkansas, where Hillary leads McCain and Obama trails in head-to-head matchups. "This is not rocket science. We need to win this thing. She can win this thing. And we have got to win."