DES MOINES, Iowa — Former President Bill Clinton told Iowa Democrats that they should appeal to disaffected Republican voters in their efforts to win control of Congress.
“We’ve got a big responsibility. Forget about 2008. Forget about the politics. Just go out and find somebody and look them dead in the eye and say, ‘You know, this is not right,’” Mr. Clinton said in a 45-minute speech before 3,500 Democratic Party activists Saturday night at their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.
Few doubted that the former president was present as a surrogate for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, whose likely run for the White House in 2008 would start in the important caucus state.
Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination regularly attend the dinner during election years. Most in attendance paid $100 to attend the fundraising event that also included speeches from Iowa Democrats Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Tom Harkin.
Despite his call for focus on this year’s midterm elections, Mr. Clinton did work in a joking pitch on behalf of his wife.
“I am under no illusions as to why I’m here,” he said. “You were so desperate for a Democrat with any name recognition at all who isn’t running for president that you resorted to the chief caseworker to the junior senator from New York.”
Mrs. Clinton did not attend the fundraiser and is the only member of the prospective class of 2008 Democrats who has not made a campaign stop in Iowa. In 1992, Mr. Clinton made only one visit during the primaries and lost the state to Mr. Harkin before eventually winning his party’s nomination and the White House.
Even though Mrs. Clinton was not in Iowa, an independent organization supporting her likely 2008 campaign had a large presence at the dinner.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Peter Fedde, of VoteHillary.org, based in Chester, Va.
Mr. Fedde said Mrs. Clinton is focused on her Senate re-election, but that Mr. Clinton’s speech was “very symbolic” of themes that Mrs. Clinton would tout as a presidential candidate.
“It was the same kind of issues, including working with Republicans,” Mr. Fedde said.
Most of Mr. Clinton’s speech focused on what he considers the faults of the Bush administration and a Republican-led Congress. Mr. Clinton cited the war in Iraq, the federal budget deficit and increased political polarization.
“You cannot blame the entire Republican Party for this reason,” Mr. Clinton said. “The entire government of the United States — the Congress, the White House and, increasingly, the courts — for the last six years has been in the total control not of the Republican Party, but of the most ideological, the most right-wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican Party.”
Mr. Clinton said Republicans have three leading principles of governance: concentration of wealth among the nation’s wealthiest people, “unlimited and unaccountable executive power” and appealing to an ideologically driven political base.
“We believe in evidence and argument, not assertions and attack,” Mr. Clinton said.