INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A knee-high wall of mustache-branded and Indiana-stamped campaign yard signs ran parallel to queuing Hoosier Democrats Friday morning.
Lined along the red brick walls of Indianapolis’ North Central High School, more than 3,000 people converged for the Indiana Democratic Party’s Hoosier Common Sense rally, headlined by former President Bill Clinton.
Supporters shivered in line for hours before the rally’s 10:30 a.m. start, gripping blue and white signs reading “Hoosiers Love Bill” with a red heart replacing the word “love.”
Among the masses was a group of half a dozen IU students, several of them North Central alumni. They road tripped to a friend’s house Thursday night for what they called their “fall weekend,” spending the night in Indianapolis to ensure they could get in line early Friday morning to hear Clinton speak.
It was cold but worth it, they said.
“It’s great to see any politician speak, but especially in your high school gym,” North Central alumna and IU senior Emma Cudahy said. “Personally, I think this is what this state needs to get its blood going.”
The students said Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in September excited them, and they thought the momentum from Vice President Joe Biden’s performance at Thursday night’s debate carried into the rally.
They agreed Biden made up for what President Barack Obama lacked in the first presidential debate Oct. 3.
“It’s just relevant that (the debate) happened last night and this is today,” IU junior Bari Finkel said.
As the students settled in on the lower level of bleachers, John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change” played.
They were ready for Bill.
Before Clinton came onstage, several Indianapolis politicians and a couple candidates spoke, including Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, and Rep. André Carson, D-7th District.
Both emphasized the importance of using what they called Hoosier common sense in this year’s election and shutting down extremism.
“We need to go out to common sense moderate Republicans and explain to them why elections matter and this one matters the most of all,” Simpson said to the rowdy crowd.
After Simpson, Carson spoke about the importance of a final burst of energy in the last month before the election.
In a surprise appearance, former Indiana governor and U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., led Donnelly, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg and Clinton onstage.
“Fortunately for us, nobody embodies this concept of Hoosier common sense more than our special guest today,” Bayh said of Clinton.
As anticipation built, supporters stomped their feet and cheers echoed through the crowded gym.
Bayh endorsed Gregg and spoke of the position’s importance.
When Gregg took to the podium, he was all smiles behind his signature mustache.
“We’re gonna win!” he shouted in his raspy voice. “It’s a great day to be a Hoosier.”
Gregg spoke of bipartisanship and education. As he introduced Donnelly, the last speaker before Clinton, he said he wanted to make history with the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
“Now, the Lord didn’t bless him with a good looking mustache,” Gregg said. “But you know, even though it’s been 1908 since we elected a governor with a mustache, its been a long time since we elected a Democratic governor and United States senator at the same time.”
The crowd grew restless as Donnelly took the microphone.
Donnelly explained to the crowd why their much-anticipated guest was in Indiana.
The U.S. Senate candidate received a call on his cell phone from an unknown number, and the operator on the other line told him President Clinton wanted to speak with him.
Donnelly thought it was a joke.
“And the next thing I hear is the voice of God,” Donnelly delivered to a roaring crowd. “He said to me, ‘Joe, you are gonna win this race for the people of the state of Indiana. Would you mind if I came out and wanted to help a little bit.’”
Donnelly had no problem accepting his offer.
As Clinton approached it the crowd erupted.
“I almost feel entitled to sing ‘Back Home Again in Indiana,’” Clinton joked.
In 2008, Clinton frequently campaigned for his wife in Indiana, then-presidential hopeful and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This time, he spoke to the crowd with a different purpose.
His 37-minute speech focused on the importance of bipartisanship in government.
“When you know you have more yesterdays than tomorrows, it sort of simplifies and clarifies life, and I think about all that matters is whether people are better off when you quit than when you started, whether children have a brighter future and whether things are coming together or being torn apart,” Clinton said. “The rest of it’s all background music.”
Clinton criticized what he called the “my way or the highway” attitude of the Republican candidates, specifically calling out Gregg and Donnelly’s opponents, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th District, and U.S. Senate candidate Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, respectively.
Clinton discussed health care, education and the economy.
He placed special emphasis on the U.S. Senate race, referencing Mourdock’s calls for less compromise in Washington, D.C.
“I loved everything about Indiana’s role in the Senate when you had Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar,” Clinton said.
Later, he mentioned Lugar again.
“I thought he at least might have acknowledged that Dick Lugar made this country a safer and stronger place,” Clinton said, referencing Mourdock.
Clinton said when interests of the country were on the line, officials worked together.
“That’s my deal,” Clinton said. “Constructive cooperative works better than constant conflict. If you apply Hoosier common sense to this election, you will elect John Gregg governor, and you will elect Joe Donnelly to the United States Senate.”