Five thousand people spilled into the Bren Events Center at UCI on Tuesday night to hear Bill Clinton endorse President Barack Obama and several Southern California congressional candidates.
Students and other Democratic supporters, many wearing Obama T-shirts and pins, cheered frantically as the silver-haired ex-president strode onto the stage for one of his trademark campaign speeches, his first in traditionally conservative Orange County since 2010.
"These are real people here that are going to affect your lives," Clinton said of the candidates he came to support.
The room erupted in applause throughout his speech.
Clinton praised President Obama's first-term accomplishments, including the Affordable Health Care Act and Student Loan Reform Act, and told the 5,100-capacity arena that voting Democrats into the U.S. House of Representatives would bolster the president's ability to further similiar efforts in his second term.
It's unlikely those policies would stand under a Romney administration, he warned.
Clinton called California the "state of the future," noting that he visited the state 29 times during his own first term as president.
He urged support for Prop. 30, which would increase taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years and boost the state sales tax by ¼ cent for four years to help dig California out of its budget mess, and opposition to Prop. 32, which would prohibit unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.
"Here's what I know," he said. "'We're all in this together' works a lot better than 'you're on your own.' "
As he listed statistics that he said show the economy improving, he turned on a bit of his well-known folksy charm.
"Shucks, even gas prices are going down," he said. Clinton predicted prices would drop 50 cents by the end of the year.
The former president spoke directly to students in the audience, promising Obama's continued support to keep education costs down.
Among the candidates Clinton cheered on were state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, who is running for a newly created congressional district covering Long Beach and West Orange County.
The former president also endorsed Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Ventura, San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters, Dr. Raul Ruiz of Palm Springs and Mark Takano of Riverside in their congressional bids.
Brownley, who was selected to introduce Clinton, called the moment the "greatest honor" of her life.
Clinton noted that Ruiz and Richard Carmona, a congressional candidate in Arizona, are both physicians.
"They know that people do die if they don't have health insurance," Clinton said, adding that although the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect, it should not be repealed by Congress.
Takano, a teacher and community college trustee, can lend his expertise to policies that would prepare students for jobs, Clinton said.
As the election draws near, Clinton has been traveling the country campaigning for Obama. His broad appeal has made him a hot commodity for the Democratic ticket, which has deployed him most recently in several swing states.
Last week, for example, Clinton hit a number of towns in Ohio, including an appearance with Obama supporter Bruce Springsteen.
Mike Moodian, assistant professor of social science at Brandman University, called Clinton “probably the most popular leader in the Democratic Party right now."
As of Monday, the last day to register online in California for the Nov. 6 election, about 523,000 Orange County residents were registered as Democrats, roughly 688,000 as Republicans and nearly 375,000 unaffiliated.