The re-election bid by incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine received a boost Tuesday night from the most formidable figure in modern Democratic Party politics, when former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at rally at the College Avenue Gym. Though the rally was designed to boost the candidacy of Corzine, in his race against Republican Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett, the star of the evening was clearly the former president.
Clinton's appearance drew an enthusiastic crowd to the gym, with several hundred students and people from the community lined up by 6 p.m. in anticipation of the 8 p.m. start of the rally.
The doors were shut after 2,200 people had squeezed into the ancient gym, leaving hundreds outside unable to get in.
Steve Burg, a psychology major from Edison, arrived at the front steps at 3 p.m., following an exam.
"He has been an important figure in my lifetime. He's the first president I was aware of, and I liked him," said Burg, who was 5 years old when Clinton began the first of his two terms, in 1992.
Arriving at about the same time as Burg was Sue Levinson of South Brunswick, a 1978 graduate of Rutgers who ventured into presidential politics in 1972, when she campaigned for Democrat George McGovern.
"I'm a political wonk," said Levinson, who had been an ardent supporter of Barack Obama in the most recent election, and a big fan of Clinton. "We (Democrats) were out of favor after Clinton. We had to put up with (George W. Bush) for eight years."
First in line Tuesday was Andrea DiFazio, a student at LaSalle College in Philadelphia, who said she arrived at noon to get a front row seat. "I want to shake Bill Clinton's hand," she said.
Monday Joseph Biden spoke at a Corzine event at Middlesex County College, in a midday rally that drew far less enthusiasm than the one here.
Levinson suggested the difference was Clinton's charisma, and his former status. "A former president trumps a vice president," she said.
Following the appearances of Biden and Clinton, President Obama is scheduled to appear at a Corzine rally Wednesday at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.
The rallies at the three college venues make for good political vibrations, according to Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers.
"Certainly, they get a lot of enthusiasm from a student audience. College students are much more likely to get up and cheer than senior citizens. They have the physical ability to do that," said Baker.
"It is always an honor to have Bill Clinton here," said university president Richard L. McCormick, who noted how during the first year of his presidency Clinton came to Rutgers to make a policy announcement.
The cost of Tuesday night's event was covered by the Corzine campaign, according to McCormick.
Opening acts for Clinton included Middlesex County freeholder candidates Ronald Rios of Carteret, James Polos of Highland Park and Carol Barrett of South Brunswick; Rutgers 2009 graduate Dymir Arthur; State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, who introduced lieutenant governor candidate State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, Corzine's running mate, who lauded the featured speaker as, "The Comeback Kid, from Hope, Arkansas."
By RICK MALWITZ, from the Web. October 21, 2009