NORTH LAS VEGAS — Subbing for a sick wife, former president Bill Clinton delivered a meandering, folksy speech in this presidential battleground state on Wednesday, arguing that Americans should choose “answers, not anger” and elect his spouse.
Over the course of about 40 minutes, the former president spoke dismissively of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, argued that Donald Trump’s immigration proposals are misguided and suggested that the Republican nominee’s call to “make America great again” was racially tinged code for rolling the clock back 50 years.
Clinton also reported that his wife, who was diagnosed Friday with pneumonia, is on the mend, only he referred to her as having the flu.
“She’s feeling great, and I think she’ll be back out there tomorrow,” Clinton said of his wife, who plans to campaign Thursday in North Carolina. “It’s a crazy time we live in, you know, when people think there’s something unusual about getting the flu. Last time I checked, millions of people were getting it every year.”
Speaking in a state that he carried twice but polls suggest is surprisingly tight this year, Clinton framed the election as a choice between a candidate who’s served others her entire life and is offering solid policy proposals and one who is appealing to a sense of “road rage” in the country.
The former president said he understands the anger of Americans who haven’t had a pay raise since the recession, and he said those frustrations are making people more resistant to immigration reform.
“People who are frustrated by the economic circumstances, and they need somebody to blame,” he said.
But he ridiculed Trump’s proposals to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build on a wall across the Mexican border.
“The worst thing we could do is spend that kind of money on a wall that would be better spent on bridges, roads and airports,” Clinton said.
Speaking of Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” he said he was among those who knows what Trump really means — suggesting it’s a reference to a time when the racial order in the country was different.
“You have to be a certain age, and it helps to be a white Southern man — I know what that means,” he said.
The former president knocked the media for having spent so much time covering his wife’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, a practice that he said has yielded nothing disqualifying.
Clinton pointed to a string of former Republican administration officials who have endorsed Hillary Clinton, an indication, he said, that there are no significant concerns about the national security implications of her email.
“So would they have endorsed her, no?” he said answering his own question.
Clinton’s visit attracted a throng of television cameras to the College of Southern Nevada but he spoke in a relatively small room at the two-year college, located several miles north of the Las Vegas Strip. Only about 150 chairs were set up in a multipurpose room of the student lounge, leaving a long line of students and others outside the doors.
An aide said Hillary Clinton planned to visit the same college campus but that the campaign had looked at other options for the specific event site.
Hillary Clinton and Trump are locked in intense contest for the Silver State’s six electoral votes, with recent polls showing a statistical dead heat and both making regular campaign stops. Clinton was last in the state late last month, delivering a blistering speech in Reno detailing Trump’s ties to the alt-right, a movement she said is inspired by racism and other dark forces.
President Obama won here in 2012 over Republican Mitt Romney by nearly 7 percentage points, a margin that has many analysts puzzling over why polls suggest the race is much closer this time.
The state is home to sizable and growing population of Latinos that traditionally has broken heavily in favor of Democrats, and a Republican candidate who has taken a hard line on immigration issues.
A poll released earlier this week showed Clinton leading Trump in Nevada among Latinos, 65 percent to 19 percent — a smaller margin than Obama enjoyed over Romney in 2012, according to exit polls.
But 16 percent of Hispanics remained undecided in the Clinton-Trump race, according to the poll for Univision News by Bendixen & Amandi and the Tarrance Group. Democrats here express confidence that once those voters fully tune into the race they will side with Clinton.
Turnout remains a critical question, however, and it is unclear whether this year’s election will energize Hispanic Americans here and elsewhere to vote at higher rates than in previous years, when fewer than half cast ballots.
But many Hispanics distrust Clinton, including in Nevada, where 49 percent said she is a liar in the Univision poll.
Nevada, meanwhile, has been slower than many to recover from the Great Recession. The state’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation, as does its share of homes with mortgages that are significantly underwater.
Trump has demonstrated an ability to tap into the economic anxiety of voters, particularly those in the working-class and in still-struggling areas of the country.
To this point, Clinton’s campaign has invested far more heavily in the state, where Trump has a golden-glass hotel bearing his name in Las Vegas.
Television ads from the Clinton campaign and an allied super PAC aired repeatedly during most commercial breaks during a morning news cast here Wednesday, alternately casting Trump as unfit to be commander in chief and Clinton as someone who’s wants to bridge the country’s divides. Trump was absent from the airwaves.
Jessica Sanchez, an “American Idol” runner-up, warmed up the crowd for Bill Clinton, performing a song, “Stronger Together,” that was written for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and shares a title with her campaign slogan.