Bill Clinton LAW ’73 returned to New Haven on Sunday to headline a campaign rally for his former classmate, U.S. Senate candidate and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73.

The former president joined Blumenthal at Wilbur Cross High School in East Rock for a rally that brought together several prominent state Democratic candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy and his running mate, Nancy Wyman, as well as incumbent U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven. While it was organized by Blumenthal’s campaign, the rally, which packed the school’s 1,300-capacity gym, was also an opportunity for candidates down the Democratic ticket to boost their campaigns.

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Blumenthal, the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd, has been running an increasingly tight race against former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate. Clinton said he came to support Blumenthal not only because of their long personal friendship, but because he believes that Blumenthal is “by light years” the better candidate.

“I am not here as a courtesy,” Clinton said. “I’ve known this man for almost 40 years — he was a good person when I met him, and he’s a good person today,”

In addition to praising Blumenthal as a public servant, Clinton, who spoke for about half an hour, defended the national Democratic Party’s legislative agenda on issues that have made incumbents vulnerable in primary elections across the nation, such as health care, financial regulation and economic stimulus. He was unapologetic in his support of the recently passed health care reform legislation; he also advocated major investments in clean energy technology to promote job creation and urged greater assistance to small businesses.

Clinton said he made the defense of Democratic policies to the mostly supportive crowd at Wilbur Cross because he wanted to supply them with points they could use to convince other potential voters.

“Since this is a Sunday, and I’m a Baptist, this is the equivalent of preaching to the saved,” he added.

Clinton said Democrats can also use his defense to address the political backlash against Democrats because of the stagnating national economy.

Blumenthal, who took the stage before Clinton, praised his former classmate for his “historic courage and leadership of this nation,” highlighting his handling of the economy during his presidency in the 1990s.

“We need to stop sweetheart deals to pharmaceutical companies, giveaways to oil and gas companies, and tax breaks to big businesses that send jobs overseas,” Blumenthal said.

Clinton’s appearance comes at a time when polls suggest that the senatorial race is tightening. With five weeks before the election, the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released Sept. 14, puts Blumenthal just six percentage points ahead of McMahon, a gap that has narrowed from 41 in January. And RealClearPolitics, a website compiles and analyzes national polling data, found early September polls to have Blumenthal ahead by 7.5 points.

McMahon campaign spokesman Ed Patru said in a statement Sunday that Clinton’s appearance at the rally was evidence that “Blumenthal’s campaign is in serious trouble.”

Over the past several months, McMahon has outspent Blumenthal by a ratio of 16 to one, mostly drawing on personal wealth. She has spent more than $21 million on the campaign so far and has told the press she may spend up to $50 million on the election.

At the rally, Blumenthal criticized McMahon’s spending.

“The people of Connecticut want an election, not an auction,” he added after the rally, saying that her spending may be unprecedented for the state.

Blumenthal, who has served 20 years as the state’s attorney general, told the News after the rally that despite McMahon’s deeper pockets, he had come into the race expecting it to be highly competitive and took confidence from the enthusiasm the crowd showed Sunday.

Election Day is Nov. 2.