INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Democrats are hoping Friday's love fest with former President Bill Clinton at North Central High School will be enough to push at least one of their top-ticket candidates to victory in a traditionally red state.
Clinton spent more than a half hour arguing that Republicans will divide the nation in a speech meant to fire up Indiana's embattled Democrats and, almost certainly, be converted into campaign commercial fodder.
Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement that "the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else" made for an easy target for Clinton.
"I don't understand how you could say your biggest thrill in life is imposing your opinion on someone, especially if you don't necessarily know what you're talking about," Clinton said to laughs from the crowd of roughly 4,000 who packed North Central's gym Friday morning.
Indiana Democrats surprised many by delivering the state for President Barack Obama in 2008, but that excitement receded in 2010 as Republicans retook the statehouse, a vacant U.S. Senate seat and two congressional seats.
Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, who is locked in a tight race with Mourdock for Indiana's open Senate seat, looks like a highlight for Democrats this cycle.
"It never hurts to have Bill Clinton say good things about you," Donnelly said before Clinton took the stage.
Democrat John Gregg, underdog to Republican Mike Pence in the governor's race, recently gained some traction in his first debate performance and got some plugs from Clinton, who campaigned with Gregg across Indiana in 2008 for Hillary Clinton.
"I'm here to tell you how honored I am to have President Bill Clinton with us here today!" Gregg said in introducing Clinton, as the crowd cheered loudly and thumped the high school bleachers.
"This is a pretty easy speech. I'm going to mention his name again," he said to louder applause.
Patty Yount, 6th District vice chairwoman for the state Democratic Party, said Clinton is probably uniquely positioned to get an emphatic reception from Indiana Democrats based on his rural roots and his time visiting the state's Jefferson Jackson Dinner fundraisers when he was governor of Arkansas.
"I think we almost call him one of our own," she said.