Campaigning in the heart of Ohio's football country, former President Bill Clinton on Saturday compared the sport to politics as he tried to save the Democratic governor's job.
Clinton canvassed the bellwether state flanked by Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, both in tight races this year. Speaking on a leaf-strewn parking lot in Canton, Clinton implored his audience of about 1,000 people to vote based on the facts _ not on anger over the still-sputtering economy.
"When something's important to us life or death, like football, we not only build a Hall of Fame," said Clinton, referring to the fact that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in the city, about 60 miles south of Cleveland. "We have instant replay to make sure we get the facts right."
The former president has been on a tear of campaigning in recent weeks, serving as the Democratic Party's most popular elder statesman. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were also headed to Ohio on Sunday for a rally in downtown Cleveland.
Clinton zeroed in on Strickland, who risks losing his gubernatorial seat to Republican former congressman John Kasich. Recent polling shows Kasich with a slim lead. Keeping Strickland in office is crucial for Obama if he wants the state to carry him to a second term in 2012.
"There is not a better, more effective governor in the entire United States of America than Ted Strickland. And you have to re-elect him," Clinton said.
Halfway through the speech, Boccieri ran off the podium to cheers when he received word that his pregnant wife had gone into labor. Boccieri, who is seeking re-election, has faced heavy criticism for casting a deciding vote in favor of the health care bill. He is locked in a closely watched race with Republican Jim Renacci.
"The baby is now being born!" Clinton announced. "You'd be amazed how many times I take a picture with a very pregnant woman and then she immediately gives birth."
Clinton also noted the absence of his wife from the campaign trail, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which has prompted speculation that she might be weighing a presidential run in 2012. He said that, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, his wife is "not permitted" to participate in electoral politics.
Earlier Saturday, Clinton told a crowd that packed a 1,700-seat banquet hall near Youngstown that no one should accept GOP proposals on spending and the budget. "It's a joke, it's not true," he said.
Clinton ended his tour in Columbus, where a rally outside a union hall was punctuated by a well-miked protester. In between praising Strickland's record, Clinton called the heckler _ Chris Macisco of Columbus _ "a metaphor" for the 2010 election.
Meanwhile, in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, the Tea Party Express bus tour rolled into town Saturday to the cheers of a small but energized crowd.
Gloria Wedemeyer, 69, drove south from adjacent Delaware County for the event. She said she also attended the Sept. 11 tea party rally in Washington.
"I just hope the Republicans get in, that's all," said Wedemeyer. "I'd like to see an end to where Democrats can just put things through because they're Democrats _ whether people like it or not. And I'm a registered Democrat."
The Republican National Committee said the high-profile Democratic visitors to Ohio only remind voters of Obama administration policies and a sour economy.
"Governor Ted Strickland can try to hide his support for the failed Obama-agenda behind Bill Clinton, but Ohioans can see past that thinly veiled attempt to mask a record of higher taxes, out of control spending and budget busting deficits," RNC spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said in an e-mail.
Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Boardman and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.