ERIE, Pa. (AP) – Former Democratic President Bill Clinton and rising stars in the Republican Party were among the political luminaries flocking to Pennsylvania on Thursday to campaign for candidates just days before voters decide high-profile races for governor and U.S. senator.
More than 300 people streamed into an Erie International Airport hangar to hear Clinton stump for two of Pennsylvania’s many embattled Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper and gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato.
Clinton repeated the message he has relayed at scores of political events nationwide, that Republicans want voters to be angry and blame high unemployment and deficits on Democrats so they usher a GOP that derailed the economy in the first place back into power.
“The more I got out here, the more concerned I became that the American people were going to vote out of anger and frustration and anxiety … and get exactly what they do not want, which is what normally what happens when you make poor decisions when you’re mad,” Clinton said.
Several Republican candidates are leading their Democratic foes in Pennsylvania polls, as they ride a wave of discontent over joblessness and Democratic President Barack Obama, chief among them Senate GOP nominee Pat Toomey.
Toomey, speaking to a small lunchtime crowd gathered outside the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton, urged supporters not to let up in the final stretch and to persuade friends and family to vote Republican.
“I think on Nov. 2 we’re going to begin the process of taking back our country, restoring the kind of prosperity that we can have, that we should have,” Toomey said. “We’ve got to get off the track they’re on in Washington. We’ve got the most liberal elected government in the history of the Republic and they’re trying to transform America into something like a European-style welfare state.”
Clinton, perhaps the Democrats’ biggest political star right now, was to head to southeastern Pennsylvania for five events, capped by a nighttime rally at Temple University with Senate hopeful Joe Sestak.
On Thursday afternoon in the Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia, two Republican governors — Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bob McDonnell of Virginia — were to speak at a rally for the party’s gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett.
That’s not all.
Two other Republican governors — Chris Christie of New Jersey and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota — planned to join Barbour on Friday morning to stump for Corbett and Toomey at two small airports in southeastern Pennsylvania before Obama arrives Saturday to fire up Democratic voters at a Philadelphia rally.
On Monday, first lady Michelle Obama will headline a rally in Philadelphia as well, where a heavy turnout by the city’s large population of black voters is considered crucial to Democratic victories.
With the potential for the Toomey-Sestak contest to help decide partisan control of the U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania is a testing ground for potential GOP presidential candidates in 2012 — Pawlenty and Barbour among them — while millions of dollars from party organizations and other outside groups pour in to influence the outcome.
Meanwhile, both parties have funneled millions to Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates through their governors’ associations.
In Erie, Tim Broderick and a handful of other anti-abortion rights protesters held picket signs, unhappy over Dahlkemper’s vote for the new federal health care bill.
“I’m very upset that she clings to the pro-life label,” Broderick said.
A supporter, 74-year-old Sally Swanson, said Dahlkemper’s pro-life credentials have been unfairly attacked and noted that Dahlkemper is running a TV ad in which she acknowledges being an unwed mother.
“She’s an honest person and they’re tearing her apart,” Swanson said.
At issue is federal funding for abortion procedures in the sweeping new health care bill Obama signed in March. The law walled off federal money from paying for the procedure, and an executive order Obama signed earlier this year affirmed long-standing restrictions on taxpayer-financed abortion. However, abortion rights opponents are divided over whether that is sufficient.
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