Former President Bill Clinton blew into Oxford last week to headline a get-out-the-vote rally for Democrat incumbent U.S. Rep. Travis Childers in The Grove at the University of Mississippi.

Childers had faced off with his challenger, Republican state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, two nights before at a debate in the University's Overby Center.

Conservative blogger Brett Kittredge said the Clinton event first began to take shape at the debate.

Kittredge, who writes the Majority in Mississippi blog, wrote that after the debate, Childers notified Andy Mullins, chief of staff to Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones, that Clinton would be calling him shortly.

"He made sure his cell phone was on. The plans to bring a president (or former president in this case) to the Ole Miss campus for the first time unfolded about 36 hours before the actual event," he said.

The university was told that Clinton would be speaking about voter education and the importance of voting. In fact, the morning of the speech, Clinton's people maintained that that is what the president would be speaking on, Kittredge said.

The University of Mississippi issued a press release describing Clinton's visit as "an opportunity [for students] to hear firsthand about the importance of exercising their right to vote."

Chancellor Jones stated, "This is an exciting opportunity for our students to hear from a former president about how important it is to have a voice in the political process, and we are honored to have President Clinton here. I hope that our students will take advantage of this special opportunity and that they will come away with a sense of how vital their political involvement is to the future of our country."

A blast e-mail to students described Clinton's appearance at the Grove as a "campus event" and said, "He will speak on the value of voting and the importance of participating in the election process. Everyone is invited to hear and meet President Bill Clinton."

Democrats saw it differently. The Childers campaign termed it a "get out the vote" rally "to energize young Democrats."

The Mississippi Democrat Party said it would be "encouraging young voters to vote for Congressman Childers."

The Oxford Democrat Party called it a "meet and greet" where Clinton would "discuss why he is supporting Congressman Travis Childers for re-election."

The event was more reflective of the Democrats' perspective than the University's description.

The invocation called on God to re-elect Childers and to make the stimulus work.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood, who served as master of ceremonies, encouraged students to visit Childers' web page to volunteer and contribute and to skip class on Election Day.

Childers shared the stage with Clinton, who was fresh off the campaign trail for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada.

Clinton told the crowd Republicans were campaigning on "fear and anger." He claimed Republicans were doing "reverse plastic surgery" on Childers turning him into Nancy Pelosi, "the first transgendered candidate for Congress."

Clinton said, "Any student here at Ole Miss who is not from a wealthy family or not on an athletic scholarship is committing malpractice for sitting this election out." Clinton urged, "You better come out and vote for Travis Childers" or you should "just stay home."

Mullins told Kittredge that other political rallies had been held on campus, including Republican Glenn McCullough in 2008 and an event recently with Nunnelee through the College Republicans.

Mullins said he knew the Childers folks would turn it into a campaign rally, but told them the university would not advertise a rally, just as they had not done for others.

However, Ole Miss did advertise the rally both in a press release and in an e-mail to students which featured Mullins as the contact.

Kittredge described his conversation with Mullins as a how-do-you say-no-to-a-former-president-type thing. Kittredge wrote he was "told that when Ole Miss communicated with Alan Nunnelee about the visit, the Republican candidate understood and agreed with the university's position."

Why wouldn't he?

Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White noted on talk radio before the rally that Clinton lost Mississippi in both his 1992 and 1996 campaigns and it was during his first mid-term election in 1994 that Republicans took Mississippi's First Congressional District from the Democrats.

Now during President Barack Obama's first mid-term election, White is hoping Clinton will repeat that feat.

In 2003, Clinton gave the commencement address at Tougaloo College, and in 2000 former President George H.W. Bush visited Mississippi State University. A visit by a former President is an honor for an institution. It is unfortunate Clinton took advantage of Ole Miss's hospitality and turned a civics lesson into a partisan campaign event - but Republicans aren't complaining.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.