ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Former President Bill Clinton tied his Sunday pitch for Democratic candidates in Michigan to football, warning that Democratic voters must prepare for the Nov. 2 election as much as unbeaten Michigan State University has to prepare for its next opponent.
"If I were in Lansing, I bet half the town, men and women, could go through the fourth quarter against Northwestern play by play," he said, referring to the Spartans' 35-27 come-from-behind victory Saturday. "In football, the facts are important and we know them."
When it comes to the economy, however, Clinton said people are too often forgetting about how deep a hole the country was in and how far it has come under President Barack Obama. While acknowledging that the economy hasn't fully recovered, Clinton said Obama is moving the country in the right direction.
"That is not cause for applause, but it should give people pause before they throw out the present coaching staff and bring back the coaching staff" that left the country with a losing season during eight years under former President George W. Bush administration, Clinton said.
Clinton got standing ovations at the start and end of his half-hour speech, despite talking about the No. 5-ranked Michigan State team during the event inside an auditorium at the University of Michigan, whose football team isn't in The Associated Press Top 25. He was joined on the stage at by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who's facing a tea party-backed Republican in his 27th run for office.
Clinton was heading to Minnesota on Sunday night. There, he's supporting Democratic congressional candidate Tarryl Clark, who's challenging Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in the nation's most expensive U.S. House race.
Clinton's appearance in Ann Arbor was his second of several stops in Michigan on Sunday.
He also spoke to about 500 people in Detroit to rally voters on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero, the Lansing mayor who is trailing Republican Rick Snyder in recent polls. He also spoke to several hundred people in Battle Creek to support Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, who faces a tough re-election bid against Republican Tim Walberg.
Clinton's audience of more than 1,000 in Ann Arbor had to wait three hours to see the former president and Dingell, after Clinton's appearance in Detroit got behind schedule. Clinton said it was important to re-elect Dingell and listed some of his accomplishments, including pushing through a health care reform law.
Dingell, who has served half a century in Congress, is running against Republican cardiologist Rob Steele. A recent poll showed Dingell leading by 17 points in the 15th District, but Clinton wants to help firm up Dingell's prospects.
Dingell said Republicans are trying to take control of Congress, but vowed: "We ain't a gonna let them do it." He gave Clinton a University of Michigan baseball cap during the appearance.
Clinton's impassioned plea to students to make sure they voted as they had in 2008 struck a cord with University of Michigan senior Katherine Buck. The 22-year-old said she definitely plans to vote, but hadn't made up her mind if she would pick Bernero for governor or Republican Rick Snyder.
Asked when she would make up her mind, she said, "It probably won't happen until right before the election."
Republicans downplayed Clinton's visit, and have tried to tie local Democratic candidates to less popular Democrats, such as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama.