Former President Bill Clinton brought his Democratic star power to Arizona State University on Thursday, telling an estimated 5,000 students that their future depends on running Republicans out of office Tuesday.
Clinton stopped in Tempe to stump for Senate candidate Jim Pederson and House candidate Harry Mitchell, stoking the momentum that has seen Democrats in recent days move dead even or ahead of longtime GOP incumbents in polls across the country.
The audience of mostly twentysomethings welcomed him like a rock star, chanting his name and carrying homemade signs, including, “You’ll Always Be My President.”
It is an increasingly important voting bloc to court, as young voters in 2004 turned out in record numbers and studies released this week indicate Tuesday could be the highest youth turnout ever in a midterm election and perhaps pivotal in close races.
“I’m trying to become more politically educated,” said 20-year-old journalism major Lindsay Bennett of Tucson. “There’s a lot of things going on that I disagree with, but I can’t really complain if I’m not involved.”
Clinton accused the Republican administration of putting their interests above the future of today’s children and young adults.
“I’m here to tell you that at my age, I care more about your dreams,” he said. “And you deserve better than this.”
At one point, Clinton moved the often-rowdy crowd to silence.
“Listen to how quiet it is. The sound of silence can be found everywhere in America,” he said, “because we know there is something fundamentally amiss in the rhythm of our shared life as Americans.”
Pederson, running to unseat longtime Sen. Jon Kyl, and Mitchell, who hopes to take Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s job in District 5, took the stage with Clinton to the strains of the former president’s 1992 theme song, Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow.”
The crowd — packed tightly into the Hayden Lawn and balanced on walls, window sills and planters — went crazy. Mitchell and Pederson kept their remarks short.
“This election is about the future of this country and you all have an important role to play,” said Mitchell, a former state senator, Tempe mayor and longtime high school civics teacher.
Freshman Jessica Aguilar, 18, believes that. She did her part to register 1,800 ASU students since the fall semester began, and encouraged another 600 to vote by mail.
Arizona is among the states targeted by a nationwide effort to mobilize young voters, who traditionally have been the least likely to turn out.
The 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Arizonans who voted in 2004 was 17 percentage points above that age group’s turnout in the previous presidential election. Experts predict a higher midterm election turnout in Arizona this year, too.
Young Voter Strategies, a project of George Washington University, this year launched the largest ever youth-targeted nonpartisan voter registration drive, aided by a $3 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and 15 nonprofit organizations, including Hispanic and student groups.
The effort registered more than 450,000 young voters, commonly referred to as “Generation Y” or the “Millenials.”.
In tight races across the country, including at least three in Arizona, young voters could turn the election, pollsters say.
Clinton told the young crowd that Pederson and Mitchell need their help.
“These elections are hanging fire,” he said. “You need to look to Republicans and independents, too. Go out there and ask people who you never thought you would ask to join you.
“Because you’re better than what you’re getting.”
Clinton spoke for nearly 30 minutes, then mingled with the crowd for another halfhour before police and Secret Service had to cordon off an area so he could extract himself and go to Tucson and a rally at Reid Park.
His stop in Arizona is part of a 29-state tour in the final days before next week’s election.