Former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 came to New Haven on Tuesday for a fundraiser at the Omni Hotel, enthusiastically throwing his support behind Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who faces a tough reelection bid this November.

Several hundred supporters — who paid $50 each — filed into the ballroom, waving blue campaign signs and cheering as New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy gave speeches praising Malloy’s first-term achievements. The governor took the stage to the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down” and launched into a critique of his opponent, Republican Tom Foley, accusing him of taking cheap shots and putting down the state of Connecticut.

Though Malloy received loud cheers, the strongest applause was reserved for the former president. Clinton thanked Harp for welcoming him back to New Haven, where he attended Yale Law School during the early 1970s, and urged attendees to actively campaign for the governor.

“The lives of the children and the future of this state will be shaped dramatically by this election,” Clinton told the audience, calling Malloy a “true leader” who articulated a vision for the state. “This man has more than earned the chance to finish the job he started four years ago.”

Clinton’s appearance so early in the campaign suggests Malloy will pull out all the stops this fall in his race against Foley, whom he defeated four years ago by a narrow margin of around 6,400 votes. In 2010, Clinton spoke at a rally for Malloy in the last few days leading up to Election Day.

But this year, with Foley leading in the latest polls and Malloy facing criticism not only from Republicans but also from traditionally Democratic groups like teachers’ unions, the governor will likely need as much help as he can get early on. Speaking to reporters after the rally, Malloy said he would welcome campaign visits from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

He also struck an optimistic tone regarding his odds, emphasizing that 2010 polls had shown him a few points behind Foley, even on Election Day.

“It’s about who votes, quite frankly,” Malloy said. “The assumptions that certain people make about turnout in certain places I think will turn out not to be the reality.”

In his speech, Clinton emphasized turnout as well, telling the crowd that they had “a few weeks to determine how this election comes out.”

Around thirty students from the Yale College Democrats attended Tuesday’s fundraiser, including Tyler Blackmon ’16, the group’s election coordinator and a staff columnist for the News. Blackmon, who will encourage students to vote in November’s election, said the race has national significance.

“A lot of Yale students don’t realize how close the race actually is here in Connecticut,” Blackmon said. “There’s so much at stake here. The progressive movement as a whole could suffer a serious blow if Dan Malloy loses reelection.”

Malloy has drawn national attention for passing a raft of liberal legislation, including some of the toughest gun restrictions in the nation in the wake of the Newtown shooting. He abolished the death penalty in 2012 and this spring, he passed a bill giving Connecticut the highest minimum wage in the country — $10.10 an hour.

But those victories have drawn the ire of conservative critics, and many moderates are frustrated by Connecticut’s sluggish economic recovery and blame Malloy’s large tax increases. Foley, a former businessman, has sought to paint Malloy as bad for business.

Clinton challenged that characterization in his speech, claiming Foley has not shown how he would be able to balance the budget if he cut taxes without significantly cutting government programs.

“I’ve been listening to this for over 30 years now,” Clinton said. “They talk tough but they govern soft. They tell voters, you can eat all the candy you want and you will never have to go to the dentist. The consequences are not good.”

Though the fundraiser was aimed at party faithfuls who would leave work on a Tuesday, 6th District Alder Dolores Colon said she hopes Clinton’s appearance boosts Malloy’s credibility among undecided voters.

Before the fundraiser, Clinton, Malloy, Harp, Blumenthal and Murphy visited Katalina’s Bakery on Whitney Avenue. Katalina Riegelmann, the bakery’s owner, said Clinton ordered a vegan carrot-cake cupcake and a vegan coconut lime cupcake to go. Malloy ordered only coffee.

When he went to Katalina’s last year, Malloy ordered an oatmeal raisin cookie.