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Published: Sunday, November 02, 2008
Page: 1A

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday called on West Virginians to pick Barack Obama as president, saying he'd strengthen the middle class and govern with good judgment.

"It's not too late for us to carry West Virginia," Clinton told a crowd of about 800 people at Word Memorial Park in Beckley.

The former president asked Obama supporters to find friends and neighbors "who are still switchable" and tell them why they - and Clinton - favor the Democratic nominee.

During his own two presidential runs, Clinton carried West Virginia. His wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., crushed Obama in the state's Democratic primaries this year.

"It didn't seem like an election to me if I didn't come here," Clinton told a cheering crowd.

In state polls, Obama trails Republican John McCain by about 8 percentage points. But Clinton asked West Virginia to fight for Democrats in the final days of the campaign.

"Get out there and bring it home," he said.

Clinton praised Obama's philosophy, policy proposals, decision-making skills and ability to execute ideas. He focused on the economy, saying that when he was president, "the American dream was alive and well."

"Obama's got the right philosophy," Clinton said. "It's ours. You grow this economy from the bottom up, not the top down."

When Wall Street troubles came to a head this fall, Obama consulted with the Clintons and economic advisers such as Warren Buffet, Clinton said.

"Before he said anything, he wanted to understand," he said during his 30-minute speech. "We need a president who wants to understand and who can understand."

He also addressed McCain and other Republicans' recent charges that Obama's policies are socialist.

"They're out there whacking Obama, saying he's for redistribution. Give me a break, folks," Clinton said, then referred to the recent Wall Street bailout as "the biggest redistribution."

Before Clinton arrived at the park, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Gov. Joe Manchin warmed up the crowd, joking about the former president's notorious lateness.

Rockefeller said people are not as divided over Obama's race as the media has suggested. He said Obama is a man who "has no ego" and doesn't get upset by criticism.

The senator also hit Republicans on policy issues.

"I think the last eight years have been the most mismanaged, horrendous, dreadful, painful years, and I don't even know how to express it," Rockefeller said.

Manchin called America and Obama "the hope of the world."

The governor said Obama's opponents have used "scare tactics" on West Virginians, trying to convince voters that Obama would take away their Second Amendment rights.

"Don't let 'em scare you!" Manchin said.

The rally had a strong union presence, with many participants wearing United Mine Workers of America shirts.

Before the speech, Jerry Massie of Fayetteville passed out "UMWA for Obama" pins.

"We need this bad," said Massie, 52. "We need to get away from this Republican economy of 'trickle-down.'"

Massie said it's embarrassing that, as the world's wealthiest nation, the United States has more than 47 million people without health insurance.

"How sad is that?" he said.

Massie, an international field representative for UMWA, said he thinks West Virginia could go blue on Tuesday.

"I'm an optimist," he said. "I think that West Virginia will vote for [Obama] ... We're working people. So we need to realize who's on our side."

A lone protester demonstrated across the street from the rally. Terry Rojas held a sign saying "Stop Abortion Now" outside the First Baptist Church.

She said Obama reminded her of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, because he has "mesmerized the young people" during economic crisis. Rojas, 72, said she believes Obama "is evil" because of his positions on abortion.

After the rally, Robert Krause of Beckley said Clinton's speech exceeded his expectations.

Krause, 57, and his wife wore matching baby-blue Obama T-shirts that said "You betcha!" a play on vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's catchphrase.

"He still knows how to fire people up," Krause said of Clinton.

Chris Dorst | Sunday Gazette-Mail photos
Former President Bill Clinton told ralliers at Word Memorial Park in Beckley that Barack Obama would strengthen the middle class.

About 800 people attended the rally, the fire marshal said.

Chris Dorst | Sunday Gazette-Mail photos
Clinton shakes hands in the crowd after his speech.

A man shows support for the Obama-Biden ticket at Bill Clintonís rally in Beckley.

Reach Alison Knezevich at or 348-1240.

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