"If you vote for these people who are running against guys like Joe Sestak, they're going to go up there and take the oath of office - they'll have one hand on the Bible, and they got a shovel in the other hand. They want to start digging again."
Sestak, a second-term U.S. representative from Delaware County, missed his own campaign rally because he was in Washington for an emergency House session for a final vote on $26 billion in federal aid for states and school districts slammed by the recession.
A former Navy vice admiral, Sestak was director of defense policy in the Clinton White House.
Clinton praised Sestak as an analytical "problem-solver" and credited the then-Navy officer with teaching a former governor "a lot in a short amount of time" about national security.
The former president's endorsement of Sestak was in contrast to a mission he undertook last year, as an intermediary for the Obama administration, to discourage Sestak from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.
Then, Clinton held out to Sestak the prospect of an advisory position on national security. Sestak declined the offer and went on to beat Specter.
After the rally and an earlier fund-raiser, Clinton traveled to Allentown to raise cash for Bethlehem Mayor Joe Callahan, the Democratic candidate for the House in the 15th District, and was to visit a fund-raiser in Philadelphia for the party's gubernatorial nominee, Dan Onorato.
The former president's political schedule has been full these days, with polls showing his approval rating higher than President Obama's and Democratic candidates skittish about appearing with the current president, especially in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Missouri.
Obama "has done a far better job in my personal and professional opinion than he's given credit for," he said. "Give us two more years, and if we're wrong, send us packing. . . . Don't elect the shovel brigade; keep electing the builders."
Clinton did not mention Sestak's Republican opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey of Allentown, by name, but said he would follow the same "trickle-down" economic policies favoring the wealthy.
The Toomey campaign responded with a statement that asserted that the balanced budgets Clinton bragged about were the result of divided government.
"When President Clinton teamed up with Republican majorities in Congress, we had a balanced budget," Toomey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said. "When President Obama teamed up with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Sestak, we got the largest deficits in American history. The clear solution is to send Pat Toomey to the Senate to provide a check and balance."
Though Sestak was absent doing his duty in Washington, many in the audience did not seem to mind, excited to see a fondly remembered president and lining up afterward to shake his hand.
"I love Bill Clinton," said Ann Kovach, 58, of Honesdale. Asked what she thought of Sestak, she said that "He seems nice" and that she probably would vote for him.
On the other hand, Joe and Susan Michetti drove up from Springfield in Delaware County to show support for Sestak.
"I have had very few personal heroes in my life, and Joe Sestak is one - I'd go to war with him tomorrow," said Joe Michetti, a former Republican who became a Democrat after volunteering in Sestak's first congressional campaign in 2006.
He also has good memories of Clinton. "I was making more money in the Clinton years than ever before or since," Joe Michetti said.
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.