LOS ANGELES — Former President Bill Clinton urged Democrats to push past apathy and turn out the vote for Democrats this November, despite economic woes and a political climate that he said is encouraging discord and division.
Before a crowd that included thousands of University of California, Los Angeles students, Clinton on Friday called the November election a clash of ideas. He sought to portray gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown as a candidate from the future – saying the 72-year-old was an innovator as governor from 1975 to 1983.
"He was the first governor in America to have green building standards, green appliance standards," Clinton said. "He knew it was good economics when most people thought it was a fool's errand."
Clinton buoyed thousands of young supporters at an outdoor rally at UCLA on behalf of Brown, the state's attorney general, and lieutenant governor hopeful Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco.
But the star status was clearly reserved for Clinton, who was swarmed by adoring crowds after he left the stage to mingle amidst the masses as Brown exited at the back.
Clinton is on a nationwide barnstorming tour on behalf of Democrats, who are facing a so-called "enthusiasm gap" with energized Republicans this year. He said he never expected to spend so much time on the campaign trail, but he felt compelled to get out because of the negative political tone this year.
"But then I got out here and I realized what you've all heard, that we've got an electorate that is motivated, they say – the experts – by anger on the right and apathy on the left and amnesia all around," he said.
Clinton said young people who turned out for President Barack Obama in 2008 need to follow through this year.
"It is not enough to have voted for a new president if you will not help him govern and stick behind the members of Congress who are with him," Clinton said, adding that statewide races are equally as important.
An energized Brown also drew a contrast between himself and his Republican rival, Meg Whitman, who he said is looking out only for the wealthiest.
"I know that things are screwed up, but let me tell you this, at some point the breakdown prepares the way for a breakthrough ... We're going to have a breakthrough, I'm confident of that," Brown said.
He told students that he would back gay marriage, give illegal immigrants who graduate from California schools the chance to attend California universities and would protect the most vulnerable.
Whitman, who is neck-and-neck with Brown in public opinion polls, opposes the so-called Dream Act, which would let U.S. high school graduates who were brought into the country illegally as children become legal residents after spending two years in college or the military.
The former eBay chief executive is on her own get-out-the-vote swing this weekend and has made pit stops in a new campaign bus at burger joints and hot dog stands this week.
At an In-N-Out Burger in Sacramento earlier Friday, Whitman said Clinton's visit to boost Brown is more evidence of national interest in the governor's race in a year in which Republicans are thought to have the momentum.
She said there were "many good things about Bill Clinton's presidency ... but he's obviously out here because he's a Democrat, a died-in-the-wool Democrat and he's trying to help Democrats across the country."
Brown and Clinton have had a long and at times acrimonious relationship. The former president endorsed Brown after he was caught on tape last month mocking Clinton for lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. They were bitter rivals in the 1992 presidential primary, and Whitman has used footage from their debate that year in a television ad.
Clinton endorsed Newsom in the Democratic primary before he ceded the race to Brown.
The rally at UCLA was Clinton's second stop in Southern California Friday. Earlier, he drummed up support in Santa Ana for Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is facing her first serious challenge in 14 years against Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran.
Associated Press Writers Amy Taxin in Santa Ana and Samantha Young in Sacramento also contributed to this report.