ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — In the twilight days of Virginia's costliest election, former President Bill Clinton twice rallied large crowds for President Barack Obama on Saturday before heading to a climactic, late-night rock 'n' roll rally 35 miles from the White House with Obama.
A standing-room-only crowd of 2,500 people packed a high school gym for a dinner-hour rally Saturday in Roanoke. Clinton called Obama "a good and faithful commander-in-chief" who has done far more for the economy than Republicans will acknowledge.
At a morning rally with barely 12 hours' notice, the hoarse and weary Clinton praised Obama's handling of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated New Jersey and New York, including Clinton's home in Chappaqua, N.Y. He also said Obama had been an ally to the military that dominates an area that is home to the world's largest U.S. Navy base in nearby Norfolk.
"Here in this area, it needs to be said over and over again. He has been a fine commander in chief," Clinton said to loud applause. "He ended the war in Iraq."
Clinton also criticized Republican Mitt Romney's tax plan and said that Obama is the only one of the two candidates who has a budget proposal that adds up. He praised Obama's health care overhaul and said that reforms included in it would allow companies to keep their health care costs down and allow them to give employees raises.
In Roanoke, the former president, who presided over a robust economy and produced four budget surpluses, said no president — himself included — could have repaired the damage done to the economy under Obama's Republican predecessor.
"We put Republicans in because they told us, essentially, you could eat candy for the rest of our lives and never go to the dentist," Clinton told the Roanoke crowd.
Curt Cashour, a Romney campaign spokesman in Virginia, said Clinton was trying to mask Obama's failures.
"With no record to run on and no vision for the future, the Obama campaign is resorting to false, discredited attacks and a cynical closing message urging voters to choose 'revenge,'" Cashour said.
Indeed, passions reflected by this year's deep partisan divide ran deep in the crowd.
Self-employed homebuilder Jeff Martin of Roanoke said he has suffered from the real estate market collapse that took hold in 2008 and worsened under Obama, but that is now showing improvement. An independent, he said he will stick with Obama over Romney.
"I never made any money that I didn't earn," Martin said. "This other guy (Romney), he never earned any of the money he made."
Best friends Megan McKnight, 33, of Roanoke, and Amy Minucie, 26, of Salem, wore their support for reproductive rights for all to see. Spelled out in red-and-blue letters on white t-shirts they spent most of the previous night making was the message, "My uterus and I are voting Obama."
At Clinton's side in Roanoke was his longtime friend and adviser Terry McAuliffe, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in 2009 who is considering another run next year.
Polls show Romney and Obama locked in a toss-up race for the 13 electoral votes that Virginia last awarded to Obama in 2008. The state is one of a handful of undecideds that will determine which candidate wins Tuesday's election.
Until 2008, Republicans had won 10 consecutive presidential races in Virginia. Democrats generally conceded the state along with the rest of the South to the GOP, and it was an afterthought in presidential politics. Now, not a day passes without a major presence by the Obama or Romney campaigns.
Campaigning will continue on Sunday when Romney is scheduled to hold a rally in Newport News. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, return to Virginia on Monday for stops in Sterling and Richmond, with rock singer John Mellencamp.
Brock Vergakis in Chesapeake, Va., contributed to this report.