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Correction: In the seventh paragraph it was incorrectly stated that President Clinton left office in 2000; he left office in 2001.
ANN ARBOR - In a campaign appearance for veteran U.S. Rep. John Dingell, (D., Dearborn), former President Bill Clinton asked voters to be patient with Democrats in Congress for two more years as they dig the nation's economy out of a hole dug by Republicans.
"We didn't get you all the way out of the hole, but it was a very deep hole," Mr. Clinton said Sunday afternoon at a rally on the University of Michigan campus. "You gave them eight years to dig the hole, give us half that time - four years - to dig us out of it."
The nation's 42nd president, Mr. Clinton spoke for about 25 minutes before a packed house of about 1,100 people at Rackham Auditorium.
Mr. Dingell, 84, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House, is facing one of the toughest election battles of his career as he seeks a 29th term.
His Republican challenger, Dr. Rob Steele, a 52-year-old Ann Arbor-area cardiologist, was slightly ahead of Mr. Dingell earlier this month in a poll conducted by the Rossman Group. But another more recent poll by a Detroit newspaper and television station found Mr. Dingell with a comfortable 53-36 lead over Dr. Steele.
Mr. Clinton, 64, pivoted between lauding recent legislative victories supported by Mr. Dingell and Democrats - health care, new financial regulations, a student loan overhaul - and attacking Republicans for threatening to roll back those initiatives.
The former president credited Democrats and his own eight-year administration for turning a budget deficit into a surplus by the time he left office in 2001.
"I have a simple question: Who's the last president to give you a balanced budget?" Mr. Clinton asked to loud applause. "Ninety-percent of the deficit was cured by the Democrats-only budget in 1993."
He placed blame for nation's present fiscal ills squarely on Republicans, chastising the GOP for allowing the budget rule known as PAYGO, or pay-as-you-go, to expire in 2002 and then borrowing to pay for two wars and the prescription-drug benefit plan.
Mr. Clinton also appeared to suggest that the national debt, currently clocked at $13.6 trillion, could have been wiped out if his successor, Republican George W. Bush, had continued with the Clinton-era budget.
"If they had stayed with our budget, America would be out of debt by 2015 for the first time since Andrew Jackson was president," Mr. Clinton said.
He chided Dr. Steele for wishing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year. Many Democrats say they support retaining the Bush tax cuts for lower and middle income groups, but not the wealthiest.
Mr. Clinton said giving that tax break to the wealthy "is the single most ineffective thing you could do to grow the economy. Far better to give the money to small business, to give the money to manufacturing."
Michigan's 15th District includes all of Monroe County and parts of Washtenaw and Wayne counties.
Dr. Steele held an evening rally in Southgate, Mich. His campaign manager took issue with Mr. Clinton's call for two more years of patience with Democrats in Congress.
"John Dingell has had 55 years to bring Michigan out of the hole he dug us into, and two more years isn't going to do anything to help us," Mike Marzano said.
Mr. Clinton received several standing ovations from his university audience, and found a receptive ear while speaking of Mr. Dingell's support for the new law overhauling the nation's student loan program.
The law, signed by President Obama in March, eliminates fees paid to banks to be intermediaries in providing loans to college students. The savings of more than $60 billion over a decade goes toward expanding students' Pell grants. The law also supports community colleges and worker training programs.
Mr. Clinton said Republicans want to repeal the student loan program, like they want to do to health care.
"If you want to protect this, you'd better re-elect John Dingell and everyone else who is for it," he said.
However, Dr. Steele's campaign spokesman said the Republican has never talked about repealing the student loan overhaul law.
"Dr. Steele is looking to cut the insane spending in Washington, he's looking to bring transparency to congress and accountability," Mr. Marzano said.
Mr. Clinton's appearance drew visitors from well outside Mr. Dingell's district. Michael and Mary Cochran of West Toledo last saw Mr. Clinton during a stump speech in Monroe 10 years ago for Al Gore, then vice president and running to succeed Mr. Clinton.
Fans of Hillary Clinton also were in attendance. Carol Oliphant of Wayne, Mich., wore a T-shirt and campaign buttons from Mrs. Clinton's 2008 run for the Oval Office. She said she tries to attend every speech by a Clinton that she can.
"When they need something done, they always seem to call Bill Clinton," Ms. Oliphant said.
Mr. Clinton had a full day in Michigan. He was in Detroit to support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero prior to his Ann Arbor visit, and was to finish the day campaigning in Battle Creek for U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer before heading to Minnesota. Mr. Clinton said he has 102 campaign appearances for this year's midterm election.
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