Former President Bill Clinton rallies support for Charlie Crist in East Tampa

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In what could be one of his most important campaign trump cards, former Governor Charlie Crist was joined on a stage in impoverished East Tampa Sunday by former President Bill Clinton. The theme of the sunny Sunday rally was simple – get out the vote.

“When we vote, we win,” Crist said to a crowd of nearly 1,000 supporters. “Now I know I’m preaching to the choir, but tell all your friends, too.”

Crist spoke for just a few moments before introducing Clinton. The two looked the perfect pair with matching white hair glistening in the Florida sun. Clinton paced the stage as onlookers snapped photos of the former president waiting to hear what kind of campaign brilliance would emerge from his mouth.

“It tickles me since the other party was in power in Washington to hear the governor, the current governor, try to blame Charlie Crist for what happened in Florida for something he didn’t have a lick to do with. That’s a pretty brash thing to do,” Clinton said through his trademark raspy Arkansas drawl.

He was referring to what has become incumbent Governor Rick Scott’s biggest talking point. Charlie Crist lost 832,000 jobs under his watch. Crist keeps pointing out that he simply cannot be blamed for job losses during a global recession, at least not any more than Scott can be credited with the nationwide recovery. Nevertheless, Crist continues to swing that hammer and it’s a hit Crist needs to either dodge or counter. Since the Scott campaign won’t let Crist dodge it, Clinton tackled it head on and threw in his own one-two punch.

“It usually takes ten years for a country to gain all of the jobs back it lost. It takes a long time for people to get comfortable with lending again, borrowing again, taking a chance again – everything shuts down when you think the wheels are running off,” Clinton said to a barrage of cheers.

Clinton slammed Scott for his top down policies Democrats claim lift the wealthy and strap the middle class and the poor right where they are. He asked the crowd what needed to be done. A lone shout from the packed crowd cried, “get rid of Scott.” Clinton chuckled and acknowledged that, yes, that would do just fine.

“You have to decide whether you want to grow from the middle class out – more jobs, higher wages and make sure every poor person who’s willing to do it has the chance to work his or her way into that middle class – or whether you want to go back to trickle down economics,” Clinton continued.

Clinton’s stump for Crist was a glimpse of the old Clinton – the one who wooed a nation into not one, but two terms as Commander-in-Chief; the Clinton who survived the infamous Monica Lewinsky sex scandal still looking like a rock star golden boy of the White House. He looked nothing like the Bill Clinton whose administration was castigated during Obama campaigning calling for a new wave of Democrats. In just 15-minutes, Clinton managed to dispel just about every argument the Scott campaign has conjured to vote against Crist. From education spending to women’s rights, Clinton touched it all.

“This Medicaid expansion is a classic example. You have given up billions of dollars in federal aid, up to 63,000 jobs, good paying jobs, and a million Florida citizens would have health care coverage who don’t,” Clinton admonished.

He pointed out that in his home state of Arkansas where Medicaid was expanded, health insurance rates are expected to go down 2 percent next year.

“Then they announced what they’re going to do down in Louisianna where they didn’t do any of this stuff – rates are going up 18% because if you don’t provide people with health insurance and they go to a rural hospital or they go to an urban hospital or they go to a teaching hospital, the rest of us will pay their bills and higher premiums,” he said.

In a final thought, Clinton touched on one of the biggest conservative peeves with Charlie Crist: he’s a flip-flopper. To get that little nugget out of the way, Clinton shone a light on Crist’s support for and passage of policies giving ex-felons quicker restoration of voting rights.

“That didn’t make any political sense,” Clinton said. “People who get out of prison are disproportionally likely to be people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. He did it when he was a Republican. Don’t tell me that he has no conviction.”

That took Clinton back to the point of the rally. Vote and vote now.

“There’s a reason they tried to make it harder for you to vote two years ago. And there’s a reason that all over the country folks that are the target of the restriction are saying, ‘thank you very much I think I’ll figure out a way to vote anyway – you cannot buy it away from me, you cannot legislate it away from me,’” Clinton rallied.

Crist, along with hundreds of supporters, marched after the rally to nearby C. Blythe Andrews public library to get voters to cast an early ballot. Early voting began in Hillsborough County last week and continues through this week.

Crist was introduced by a couple of high-profile Florida politicians. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who once didn’t speak quite so highly of Crist, talked about how Scott leaves out the little guy, but not Crist. Crist was also introduced by Tampa-area member of Congress Kathy Castor. She joined the chorus of officials trying to boost Democratic turnout for this mid-term election.

“Ask your friends and colleagues, have you voted yet,” Castor said.

According to the United States Elections Project that tracks early voting data nationwide, 1.74 million Florida voters have already cast a ballot this election as of Saturday. Of those, only 37.4% were registered Democrats while 45.7% were Republicans.

“If you want a governor who supports raising the minimum wage, we need your vote. If you want a governor who wants to have equal pay for women, we need your vote. If want a governor who’s going to expand Medicaid for a million Floridians, we need your vote. If you want a governor who will protect a woman’s right to choose, we need your vote,” Crist said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.