MCLEAN, Virginia (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton gave a rousing endorsement of fellow Democrat Barack Obama in his first 2012 campaign appearance with the president on Sunday night, and helped him raise more than $2 million.
A white-haired and svelte Clinton, 65, pounded the podium and pointed at the crowd while addressing about 500 Obama supporters outside the Virginia home of his friend and Democratic adviser Terry McAuliffe.
“I think he’s done a good job,” he told the crowd in his signature raspy voice, warmly introducing the man who beat his wife, Hillary Clinton, to win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and then made her secretary of state. “We are going the right direction under President Obama’s leadership.”
Clinton’s support could be pivotal for Obama’s efforts to raise money and to sell voters on his economic plans, which Republicans have denounced as fiscally reckless and rooted in populism instead of good business sense.
Clinton oversaw one of the most prosperous times in recent American history and managed to balance the federal budget, something Democrats are keen to remind voters before the November 6 election.
When he took the backyard podium, Obama, 50, noted Clinton’s “remarkable” economic record in his two White House terms and referred frequently to the political powerhouse standing behind him, who stands to be a huge fundraising force in the final months of the presidential campaign.
“I didn’t run for president simply to get back to where we were in 2007. I didn’t run for president simply to restore the status quo before the financial crisis. I ran for president because we had lost our way since Bill Clinton was done being president,” Obama said.
The state of the economy is expected to be the pivotal issue for voters in November.
With unemployment still relatively high and growth showing signs of slowing, Obama is under pressure to defend his string of big budget deficits and prove the soundness of his proposals to keep spending on infrastructure, clean energy and education and to raise taxes on the very rich.
Neither Obama nor Clinton referred to George W. Bush, the Republican who served two presidential terms in between their tenures, nor the presumptive Republican nominee for this year’s White House race, Mitt Romney, by name in their outdoor remarks.
But Clinton said Obama’s likely White House opponent this year wanted to revert to the policies that plunged the United States into crisis, but “on steroids, which will get you the same consequences as before, on steroids.”
Clinton applauded Obama’s efforts in healthcare, clean energy promotion and student loan reform, and argued that employment levels were rebounding quickly from the financial and mortgage crises that took hold before Obama took office.
“Look, the man’s not Houdini, all he can do is beat the clock. He’s beating the clock,” he said, comparing the pace of recovery to Japan’s extended weakness after its own crisis. “The last thing you want to do is to turn around and embrace the policies that got us into trouble in the first place.”
Fresh from the previous night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, where he took several digs at Romney, Obama was clearly in good humor at the Virginia event.
Turning to foreign policy, Obama said he and Hillary Clinton had “spent the last three and a half years cleaning up other folks’ messes,” and made fun of Romney’s recent comment that Russia was the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
“I‘m suddenly thinking, ‘What? Maybe I didn’t check the calendar this morning. I didn’t know we were back in 1975,'” he said. The comment echoed Vice President Joe Biden’s criticism last week of Romney as being stuck in a Cold War mindset.
Clinton had not appeared with Obama this election cycle. But last week the Obama campaign released a video of Clinton praising Obama for approving the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May.
Tickets to Sunday’s outdoor reception cost $1,000 and up, and Obama and Clinton later addressed a more exclusive dinner at McAuliffe’s home for 80 people who paid $20,000 each. The money went to a fund supporting Obama’s re-election, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.
Editing by Doina Chiacu