Clinton dazzles Stockton late Wednesday night

A sodden crowd of 1,000 stood in the rain for hours but they greeted former President Bill Clinton late Wednesday night with the enthusiasm of a reinvigorated Democratic Party who might find itself in charge of Congress next week.

Clinton lived up to his reputation as a dynamic and inspirational speaker who charmed this crowd into forgetting their wet shoes, damp hair and the late hour. He was more than an hour late from a Prop. 87 rally and Democratic Party fund-raiser in San Francisco.

“Oh, I wish Clinton was running again!” gushed one fan, who stood on the Stockton Airport tarmac amidst a sea of umbrellas and makeshift rain shelters. One woman used the plastic top of a grocery store sandwich tray and another wrapped one of those shiny, automobile sunshade around her shoulders.

It was billed as rally for Democratic candidates and several shared the stage with Clinton, including state Insurance Commissioner and lt. governor candidate John Garamendi along with state senator and Secretary of State candidate Debra Bowen.

But unquestionably, the night belonged to congressional District 11 candidate Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, a mathemetician who defied conventional political wisdom and now runs neck-and-neck in a Republican district with seven-term incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.

Here he was standing in front of 1,000 people and the press shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the nation’s brightest and charismatic orators in modern political times.

McNerney has struggled to learn public speaking skills; he has described the prospect of delivering a speech as terrifying experience. And an editorial writer recently opined that McNerney had a “charisma deficit,” a harsh if not entirely inaccurate description.

“Yeah, he’s pretty nervous,” said a McNerney aide.

But McNerney delivered a perfectly adequate speech and even when he flubbed a few words, he laughed it off and the audience laughed with him. The evening ranks as one of the high points of McNerney’s campaign, a moment that could only be topped if he wins on Tuesday.

The audience, meanwhile, had no clue that the evening’s biggest potential disaster for McNerney was averted.

Just hours earlier, the campaign staff of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides put out press advisory saying he would appear at the Stockton rally, too.

That couldn’t have pleased the McNerney campaign staff, who had worked long and hard to persuade Clinton’s advance team to make the stop in Stockton on the former president’s way from San Francisco to Nevada, where he will campaign today.

This was McNerney’s chance to shine among voters who will decide whether he will go to Congress. The last thing he needed was a gubernatorial hopeful behind in the polls to hijack his event.

But a subsequent press advisory said Angelides would instead appear with Clinton and House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, at a fund-raiser at the Warfield in San Francisco earlier in the evening.

Inquiring minds want to know: Why was Angelides scrambling at the last minute for face-time with Clinton?

Lisa Vorderbrueggen