Former President Bill Clinton became the latest high-profile Democrat to back the re-election bids of Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, saying Tuesday that the candidates focus on issues important to voters, like jobs and health care.
"I'm here to support Dick Durbin and Pat Quinn because I think they're about the future," Clinton told workers at Chicago-based manufacturing company Wheatland Tube. "What this election should be about is what your lives are about ... more jobs, higher incomes, better education and training, secure health care and stronger families and communities. ... The rest of it is all background music."
Clinton has stumped for vulnerable Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana, with upcoming stops in Kentucky, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Campaigns hope his star power and continued popularity will help sway undecided voters and boost minority turnout. In Chicago, he played to President Barack Obama's hometown crowd by saying Republicans in other states are using the Nov. 4 contest as a protest vote against the president.
Illinois' gubernatorial matchup is one of the most expensive and competitive nationwide. Quinn is seeking a second full term, but faces a tough challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist trying to wrest away one of the last Democratic strongholds in the Midwest. Clinton's visit was preceded by a Sunday rally headlined by Obama and events with first lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Rauner's campaign deemed the visits by Democrats "full rescue mode." Rauner appeared with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Rockford on Tuesday, part of a nationwide tour for Christie, who serves as the head of the Republican Governors Association. Christie has been to Illinois for Rauner several times.
Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, is seeking a fourth term against Republican dairy magnate and state Sen. Jim Oberweis.
Clinton reiterated themes that have been prominent in Quinn's re-election bid: That the Chicago Democrat took over and led Illinois at a time of ethical and economic crisis. Quinn, a former lieutenant governor, assumed office in 2009 in the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal.
Quinn noted the drop in unemployment during his tenure. State figures showed a September rate of 6.6 percent, compared to 9.1 percent a year earlier. Durbin also praised Quinn's jobs record.
But Rauner has said Illinois still lags behind other states and isn't growing or competitive.
Clinton told the enthusiastic crowd — including several state lawmakers — that the GOP elsewhere are "relentlessly attacking the president," and using the midterm election as a referendum on his presidency. He said voters shouldn't become pessimistic.
He said he's been thinking about the future more, in part because of his new granddaughter, and reflected on his role in politics.
"I feel like an old racehorse that's retired. I'm in a barn somewhere. About once every two or four years they come and bring a little extra hay," he said. "They brush me down real good, take me out to the track, slap me on the rear and just see if I can get around that track one more time."