Obama points to Clinton’s example in final days of race

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LIMA, Ohio — In the final days of the campaign, President Obama has found a role model: Bill Clinton.

At every campaign stop in the waning days of the race, Mr. Obama has inserted a new reference to Mr. Clinton in his speeches, pointing to the 42nd president as the best example of a leader whose policies built a strong economy.

“His economic plan asked the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more so we could continue to invest in our people, continue to invest in ideas and innovation, invest in our infrastructure,” Mr. Obama said. “By the end of President Clinton’s second term, America had created 23 million new jobs, and incomes were up and poverty was down, and our deficit became the biggest surplus in history. So our ideas were tried and tested, and they worked.”

He doesn’t mention that Mr. Clinton’s tax hike in 1993 was the largest in U.S. history, raising the top marginal rate to 39.6 percent, adding a 4.3-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, it removing the cap on the 2.9 percent Medicare payroll tax, increasing the taxable portion of Social Security benefits and raising the top corporate income tax rate to 35 percent. The economy grew at a respectable rate of 3.2 percent, but hourly wages stagnated.

Mr. Obama also leaves unstated that his own economic policies have yet to produce strong growth.

The president is calling attention to the Clinton economy to draw a contrast with Republican rival Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama portrays Mr. Romney as the anti-Clinton, who would cut taxes on the wealthy and thereby increase the burden on the middle class, policies that he blames for creating the recession.

A spokesman for the Romney campaign said Mr. Obama is reaching back to the Clinton presidency because his own leadership hasn’t produced enough jobs.

“President Obama is trying to run on Bill Clinton’s record because, after four years in office, middle-class Americans aren’t better off under his leadership,” said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “Jobs and incomes have declined, while the nation’s debt and deficits are up. As inconvenient as it might be for President Obama, it’s time for him to run on his own record, not the record he wished he had.”

The president and former president have not always embraced each other. When Mr. Obama was running against Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Clinton famously referred to stories of Mr. Obama’s early opposition to the Iraq war as “a fairy tale.”

This year, Mr. Clinton is campaigning hard for Mr. Obama, and gave a rousing speech in support of Mr. Obama at the Democratic National Convention. But Mr. Obama’s increasing references to the former president on the campaign trail are a last-minute change in his appeal to voters in the final week of the race.

Mr. Obama’s senior campaign strategist, David Axelrod, said the president wants to lay out for voters the clear choice facing them. And he said the Clinton presidency offers a good lesson.

“The reason the president’s talking about it is because it’s a very clear parallel,” Mr. Axelrod said. “We’re having a battle between two philosophies with very recent application. One is the theory we had under the Clinton administration, where we dealt with deficits in a responsible way. We made some cuts, but also asked the wealthy to pay a little bit more. And we had a period of unrivaled economic expansion, 22 million jobs created, balanced budgets.”

He said the administration of Republican George W. Bush, by contrast, “squandered the surplus, put two wars on a credit card, [approved] two tax cuts skewed to the wealthy.”

“What we saw was the collapse of the economy, and the pummeling of the middle class,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Gov. Romney is an exponent of that second theory. Now he wants to bring those policies back. We believe in the theory that Bill Clinton had, that in order to grow the economy in a way that is sturdy and offers up the greatest prosperity, is to invest in things like education and research and development and new energy sources.”

Ms. Henneberg said the election is a choice “between the status quo and real change,” not a choice between Mr. Romney and Mr. Clinton.

“We can’t afford four more years like the last four,” she said. “The Romney-Ryan plan for a stronger middle class will create 12 million jobs, result in higher take-home pay, and put America back on the path of prosperity and opportunity. On Tuesday, voters will embrace Mitt Romney’s positive vision for a real recovery and a brighter future.”

Campaigning for Mr. Obama in Ohio Friday, Mr. Clinton criticized Mr. Romney’s plan to create 12 million new jobs.

“I just don’t think it works,” Mr. Clinton said. “We have tried it before.”

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