DAVIS — The man who was serving as president when many of them were born exhorted UC Davis students on Tuesday to throw their support behind the Democratic ticket in the upcoming election, telling them, “It’s your future. . . . It’s your life.”
“We have to do the smart thing,” former President Bill Clinton told the throng of thousands gathered on the UC Davis Quad on Tuesday morning. “We have to do it together, and it all starts with you.”
Clinton was in town to campaign for four Democratic congressional candidates, including Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, who is running against Kim Vann, R-Arbuckle, in the 3rd Congressional District that includes much of Solano County.
The others for whom Clinton offered support were Jerry McNerney of Stockton’s 9th District, as well as two men challenging Republican incumbents: Ami Bera of Elk Grove, who is running against Rep. Dan Lungren in the 7th District, and Jose Hernandez of Stockton, who seeks freshman Rep. Jeff Denham’s seat in the 10th District.
All four candidates are in competitive races in redrawn districts. And all four benefited from the former president’s drawing power Tuesday, with likely the largest political rally of their careers thus far.
The event, organized by the Davis College Democrats, didn’t start until close to 11 a.m., but a huge crowd was on hand much earlier. UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain estimated the crowd eventually grew to between 8,000 and 10,000 people. In addition to the many students packing the Quad, there were numerous fans both younger and older who had come to see Clinton.
Davis resident Bee Honeycutt, 70, took her grandchildren out of school for the morning so they could see and hear a former president in person.
As a young girl, Honeycutt said, her parents took her to see Lyndon B. Johnson on a whistlestop tour before he was even governor of Texas.
“My dad would hold me on his shoulders so I could see,” she recalled.
Later, she would see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in person, as well as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
And on Tuesday, she arrived early on the Quad with her grandchildren – 8-year-old James King and his sister, 6-year-old Lena – to secure a good vantage spot. James and Lena missed class Tuesday, but their grandmother said she thought it was an excellent excuse.
“I thought it would be a good field trip,” she said.
Clinton didn’t disappoint the crowd, drawing cheers especially when he took on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But he focused in particular on college students and what, he said, is at stake for them in this election.
President Barack Obama, said Clinton, fought to increase the number of Pell Grants available to college students as well as to hold down interest rates on student loans and ensure that loan repayments would be determined by recent graduates’ new salaries, “and not the other way around.”
“What does (Romney) want to do?” Clinton asked. “Repeal that.
“(But) making it possible for you to repay your loans means more of you will do it,” he said. “We need you to finish, to get your degrees and go out and find a job.
“This is a huge deal,” he said. “This one thing can change the future of America.”
Clinton also echoed student speakers at the rally in plugging Proposition 30 – the ballot measure that would raise California’s sales tax by a .25 percent, as well as income taxes on the wealthiest Californians. Should the measure fail in November, cuts to education – including the University of California system – would immediately follow, speakers noted.
In endorsing Garamendi for the new 3rd Congressional District, Clinton noted that Garamendi had served as deputy secretary of the interior in his own administration, “where he protected the environment.”
He added that as a longtime rancher, Garamendi understands that when things go wrong – whether it’s a drought, a natural disaster or anything else – the phrase, ” ‘We’re all in this together,’ works better than ‘You’re on your own.’ ”
On Tuesday, Vann’s campaign manager, Alee Lockman, said, “This election is about the future of our country, not the good old days.”
“We need new ideas and real solutions, not more of Garamendi’s failed economic agenda and debt-increasing policies,” Lockman said. “It’s time for a new direction.”
Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.