COLUMBUS (AP) -- Former President Bill Clinton accused Republicans of restricting voting rights while stressing to Democrats they have to show up in off-year elections, during remarks at the Ohio Democratic Party's annual state dinner Friday.
Republican-controlled legislatures in Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin have taken recent steps to curtail early voting by limiting the days on which it's available. But Clinton said it's possible for Democrats to overcome the challenges of getting their base to the polls.
"The only way we can do that is to give people something to vote for and a clear choice," he said.
Nearly 2,500 people were expected to attend the fundraising dinner, party officials said.
Clinton's visit to one of the nation's top presidential battleground states came as his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, weighs a second bid for the White House.
The former first lady and secretary of state has been on a book tour that has attracted intense media attention and resembled the frenetic pace of a campaign kickoff. She won Ohio's Democratic primary in 2008 over the party's eventual nominee, Barack Obama. Her husband carried Ohio both times in his presidential elections.
Bill Clinton thanked Ohioans for their support in 1992 and 1996, and "the many friends" he said his wife made in 2008.
But outside presidential election years, he said voters supportive of Democratic positions "have a bad habit" of staying home.
"So are you going to show up?" he asked to cheers. "But are you willing to find others and get them to show up? That's what a party is for."
The former president remains in heavy demand as a fundraiser and adviser. He also has been helping Democrats battle to keep their U.S. Senate majority and win other races.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the former president has been eager to help and understands the importance of the fall governor's race. He said neither Clinton has said no to the party's invitations.
"They know that Ohio matters," he said. "It matters not just in 2014 but beyond."
The dinner is the state party's largest fundraising event, raising money to help statewide candidates.
Democrats will need it going into the fall elections. Republican Gov. John Kasich has banked $9.3 million, compared with the $1.9 million that Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald had on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.
FitzGerald told reporters at the party's dinner that he expected Kasich to always carry a money edge.
"The question is are we going to have the resources to tell our side of the story," he said, adding that he believed he would.
In a prelude to lines that will likely be used on the campaign trail, FitzGerald sought to portray Kasich and his fellow Republicans as extreme.
The GOP swept all statewide offices in 2010, and each is seeking re-election this November.
"A group of radical, right-wing politicians took over the state," FitzGerald said. "They hijacked our public institutions and public policy for their own benefit and for the benefit of their friends. And the consequences have been devastating for the state that we love."
He also criticized Kasich's handling of the state's economy -- saying he has talked to people who have "been trapped in John Kasich's low-wage, lousy job economy."
Kasich has argued that budget adjustments and tax changes he's championed were necessary to put the state on a solid fiscal footing. Ohio has seen an overall drop in the state's unemployment rate from 9.4 percent the month Kasich took office to 5.7 percent in April.
In response to the Democrats' event, Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimp said, "Nearly every single week we've seen Ohio adding jobs, our middle class getting stronger, and more and more screwups from a Democratic candidate that's clearly not ready for the job he's seeking."