Speaking at an event that was part fundraiser, part pep rally for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's gubernatorial campaign, former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday defended the way the state handled the troubled roll out of its health insurance exchange -- an issue Brown's critics have attempted to use against him for months.
"I admire the fact that when they had problems with the health care website, like the federal government did, they fixed them," Clinton, who endorsed Brown last month, told supporters who gathered at a Potomac conference center. "I don't care what anybody else says or what our friends in the other party say, the worst thing we could have done on health care is nothing."
Clinton, who experienced something of a political resurgence for defending the national health care law during the 2012 presidential election, told about 700 donors that Brown deserved credit for confronting the problems faced by the exchange once they were discovered and for helping the state to ultimately boost enrollment. He repeatedly described Brown as a problem solver who could bring people together.
"I'm honored to support someone you know I believe in," Clinton said. "He's got the right experience, he's got the right agenda, he’s got the right ability and determination and the right kind of support."
Brown is running against Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County for the Democratic nomination in the June 24 primary. Gansler, in particular, has emphasized Brown's role overseeing the Obamacare exchange, which crashed after launching on Oct. 1 and has been widely considered among the most problematic sites in the country.
"If I were just an ordinary voter in this state and I...knew then what I know now about the whole progress of this health care issue, nationally and at the state level, it's one of the reasons I'd want Anthony Brown to be my governor," Clinton said.
The history leading up to Clinton's endorsement and appearance in Maryland is a lesson in political loyalty. Brown was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign over Barack Obama. Brown's campaign has said the lieutenant governor struck up a relationship with Bill Clinton years earlier when the then-president attended a bill signing in Annapolis in 2000.
Gansler, on the other hand, was an early Obama supporter and served as a co-chair of his campaign in Maryland.
In a statement Tuesday Gansler noted his association with Obama in 2008 but also praised the former president and noted emphatically he would support Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. That, of course, even though Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he is considering a run of his own.
"Let me make clear that when I am governor," Gansler said, "I will be strongly supporting Hillary Clinton for president, should she choose to run."
O'Malley also spoke at the event Tuesday and Clinton heaped praise on the way both O'Malley and Brown have led the state.
Ticket prices for the fundraiser ranged from $250 to $4,000 and Brown aides said the campaign anticipated raising about $1 million. The money comes as both Brown and Gansler have ramped up their television advertising presence with a little more than a month to go before the election.
For his part, Brown stuck mainly to discussing the state's economy.
"Marylanders expect effective government and effective public sector leaders who understand the problems, who will commit themselves to creating the conditions for opportunity," he said. "As we grow our economy we will commit ourselves to creating more ladders of opportunity for more and more Marylanders."
Larry Hogan, a real estate business owner and former official in Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr's administration who is seeking the GOP nomination, dismissed Clinton's visit at the fundraiser.
"While Bill Clinton was working across party lines in the ’90s to grow the national economy, cut the deficit and put Americans back to work, Maryland languished under one party rule and badly underperformed our neighboring states," Hogan said in a statement. "Anthony Brown is no Bill Clinton."