FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton returned to his old haunts of northwestern Arkansas on Tuesday and implored college students to support Democrats at risk of losing what's left of the political power they have held since Reconstruction.
Next to the building where he once taught law, Clinton challenged students at the University of Arkansas to turn out for an election without a big national race.
"The polls that show us in trouble uniformly believe that younger voters who voted for president will not show up in a midterm," Clinton said. "You have more at stake in this election than people like me. I have more yesterdays than tomorrows. You have got more tomorrows than yesterdays and you better show up."
Here and elsewhere, polling shows that younger voters typically lean to the left: While Republican candidates in Arkansas have fared best among those ages 30-60, President Barack Obama split the 18-29 vote with Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry outpolled President George W. Bush among younger voters in 2004.
Clinton was Arkansas governor before most of today's university students were born and left the White House when they were in primary school — a lifetime ago, politically. Until recently, Democrats had controlled virtually all of state government — then Republicans benefited from an unpopular president to wrest control of the Legislature, three statewide offices and all but one seat in Congress.
By the time today's college students reached voting age, Arkansas was a two-party state.
"Elections have consequences. All the polls show that we're all in a statistical dead heat. This election will be won based on who gets their people out to vote," said Mike Ross, one former congressman running against another former congressman, Asa Hutchinson, for governor.
It was a day of tradition and homecoming for Sen. Mark Pryor, facing a strong challenge from freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. The son of a former governor and former U.S. senator opened by pointing out nearby buildings where he earned his history and law degrees.
"My name's on the sidewalk twice around here," Pryor said, noting the university's tradition of etching the name of every graduate. After leading the crowd in a "Woo-Pig-Sooie" cheer, he turned to his serious need for their vote.
"The experts said ... young people are tuned out and they don't care," Pryor said. "They ought to come to Arkansas. You all are here today because you understand you have more at stake in this election than anybody else."
It was difficult to tell the size of the crowd, though it appeared to be a few thousand, or how many were eligible to vote in Arkansas elections.
For instance, Claire Wiegers, a junior in political science, watched Clinton despite being a Republican registered to vote in Flower Mound, Texas.
"It's not very often you get to see a president," Wiegers said, standing about 25 yards from the president. "Clinton could step in and be the voice of reason in politics.
"A true leader can put aside his differences for the good of the country," she said before Clinton's appearance. "I don't think Obama does that but I don't think Republicans do that either. 'It's not about the country or leadership. It's about my agenda and my politics.'"
Clinton touched on similar themes in his remarks.
"If you don't have an inclusive philosophy, if it's 'my way or the highway,' there's no way in the wide world you're going to get anything done," Clinton said.
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