NASHVILLE -- Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday urged Tennessee Democrats to get behind President Barack Obama's plans to reform health care and not allow that effort to be "steamrolled" by opponents.
"Their only shot to kill health care reform one more time is to scare the living daylights out of everybody," said Mr. Clinton, whose own efforts to reform health care collapsed in 1994.
Mr. Clinton helped raise more than $600,000 Saturday for the Tennessee Democratic Party when he spoke at the party's Jackson Day fundraiser along with former Vice President Al Gore.
"The single worst thing we can do is nothing politically," said the former president. "Doing nothing is not only the worst we can do for the economy and the worst we can do for health care, but it's the worst thing we can do for Democrats; and don't think the Republicans don't know that."
Opponents of health care reform have been vocal in recent weeks at town hall meetings across the country, with many saying they don't want government interference in personal health decisions.
An estimated 3,000 people attended the Jackson Day fundraiser. Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said the event raised "north of $600,000," setting a new record.
"This is an evening of celebration for Democrats all across the state," Mr. Forrester said. "It's a reunion of the band with Bill Clinton and Al Gore together. The band's back together."
Money raised Saturday "will give us the fundraising base to do what we need to do for 2010," Mr. Forrester said. "One of the interesting things is that Democrats are very excited."
But Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney criticized Democrats for gathering "to pat themselves on the back."
"The honest truth is their party, led by an ever increasingly failing president, stands for policies and principles that do not represent the views of most Tennesseans," Mr. Devaney said.
Mr. Devaney said the Republican Party stands for less government, individual freedom, and free enterprise. "Standing by our principles brought Republicans great success last year in Tennessee, and that is why we are planning on big success in 2010," he said.
Democrats, however, believe they can retake the state House, which the GOP captured in 2008 elections. And with Gov. Phil Bredesen barred by term limits from running again, Democrats hope to hold on to the governorship.
"Obviously I'd like to see a Democratic governor follow me," Gov. Bredesen said Saturday.
At the fundraiser, Mr. Gore also urged passage of health care reform legislation being considered in Congress.
"We hear a lot of talk about liberal and conservative and left and right," said Mr. Gore, who represented Tennessee in the House and Senate from 1977 to 1993. "But ... when there are tens of millions of people in our country who cannot afford to get access to health care, we have a moral imperative to pass health care reform, and we need to pass it this year."
As Democrats' 1992 presidential nominee, Mr. Clinton tapped Mr. Gore as his running mate. The two won the 1992 election and their 1996 re-election campaign. Mr. Gore ran unsuccessfully for president in 2000.
Saturday night's event was to be their second joint appearance this month. On Aug. 5, the two appeared together after Mr. Clinton negotiated the freedom of two journalists who had worked for Gore-led Current TV. The two had been held captive in North Korea.
Earlier Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidates spoke to top party leaders during a lunch. They included state Sen. Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan, D-Clarksville; Jackson businessman Mike McWherter; and Nashville businessman Ward Cammack.