Clinton tries to fire up backers

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to the Bluegrass state to ask Kentuckians who voted for her in last May's primary to enthusiastically back Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford and presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"I came back to urge all of you to do everything you can between now and Nov. 4 to make sure we have a Democratic President Barack Obama and that Kentucky sends a Democratic senator, Bruce Lunsford, to Washington," Clinton told more than 1,000 Democrats at the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday afternoon. During her 12-minute speech, she introduced a new campaign theme, complete with buttons, called "Hillary Sent Me".

That motto is aimed at her primary supporters, she said, "making it clear that if you worked hard for me you're going to work just as hard to elect Barack and Bruce."

Some political observers have questioned how many Clinton supporters in Kentucky will vote for Obama in November, especially after Clinton won the primary by more than 35 points and Obama barely campaigned in the state. But the staunch Democrats who made up most of the crowd Saturday showed no signs that they were struggling to make the switch, giving boisterous cheers at each mention of the nominee.

"I'm a Democrat through and through," Wanda Maxey of Flemingsburg said as she summed up why, even as a fervent Clinton backer, she's strongly supporting both Obama and Lunsford.

Clinton talked up Lunsford, saying he could help Democrats "clean house" in the fall if he knocked off four-term incumbent Mitch McConnell, the GOP's Senate leader.

"I think it's pretty clear that eight years of what we've already had — aided and abetted by your senior senator — is not what we need in America. What we need is to clean house from top to bottom and send them all home," she said.

The event came on the heels of a week's worth of economic turmoil culminating with the largest federal government intervention into the country's financial markets since the Great Depression.

"I don't know about you, but I miss the sense that we were in charge and making the right decisions and doing what we need to do for our children and future generations," Clinton said.

Lunsford, meanwhile, went right after McConnell on that front in his brief remarks following Clinton.

He referenced McConnell's description of the U.S. economy — "We are currently having an economic slowdown right now" — during a debate last weekend in Northern Kentucky

"He sort of, as always, repeated the words of George Bush that we were in an economic slowdown. What was your first clue?" Lunsford said, prompting laughs. "What's the policy been of Mitch McConnell? Deregulate when times are good and bail 'em out when times are bad."

McConnell told the Herald-Leader on Friday that the government must take steps to protect investors.

Lunsford said Clinton's visit signals that his challenge to McConnell is a competitive race. A poll conducted by Research 2000, which also conducts surveys for the Herald-Leader, showed Lunsford trailing McConnell by 13 points. The left-leaning blog Daily Kos paid for that poll.

"The race just began today," Lunsford said. "We have always believed that the public is going to be focused on this race and look back at the last six years and evaluate the performance of Mitch McConnell and the last eight for Bush."

Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who hired a young Lunsford as commerce commissioner during his term from 1979 to 1983, said Clinton's visit should give Lunsford a charge.

"I think Bruce is really going to have a whirlwind campaign until Election Day," he said.

Many voters agreed, even though about 150 people left during Lunsford's remarks, which followed Clinton's speech.

Julie Geary of Simpsonville, who attended the event with her husband, Jack, said Clinton's appearance on Lunsford's behalf should be an injection into what she considered a low-key campaign so far.

"He needs something. He's been quiet," she said. "My vote will be for Lunsford, but maybe even more against Mitch."