Hillary Clinton Leans on Husband Bill

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a presidential race where the Democratic candidates are competing as agents of change, Hillary Rodham Clinton's most reliable campaign prop is something of a political relic - her husband.

The former president was at her side to help put the best face on her third-place finish Thursday in Iowa, and he was beside her again when dawn broke the next day on the final push to Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

"I was never more proud of Hillary in all the days we've been together and all the days of this campaign than when she gave that speech in Iowa," the ex-president told New Hampshire voters.

No loyal spouse would say any less.

But with Bill Clinton, it's a far more complicated dynamic than simply that of the supportive husband.

He is at once a huge part of her political bona fides and a living reminder of days gone by.

The old days aren't necessarily a bad thing to Democratic primary voters - the former president has attracted large and enthusiastic crowds as he campaigns for his wife.

"It's hard to detect any signs of Clinton fatigue in a Democratic primary," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

But, by the same token, the profile of Bill Clinton isn't necessarily an ideal backdrop for a campaign in which change is emerging as the coin of the realm and Hillary Clinton is swapping slogans by the week.

"Senator Clinton needs to make this campaign about her vision, her plans and her strengths," says Brazile.

The candidate's husband, meanwhile, tends to ramble on about himself.

A survey of Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa found that by a margin of 52 percent to 20 percent, more Democrats said they wanted a candidate who could bring about change than said they were seeking a candidate with the proper experience. And Barack Obama, who won decisively in Iowa, was the overwhelming winner among voters looking for change - he got 51 percent of their votes, compared with 19 percent for Clinton.

Clinton tries to meld two qualities - change and experience - by offering herself as a president "who won't just call for change, or a president who won't just demand change, but a president who will produce change, just like I've been doing for 35 years."

For all of that, though, "in some ways her campaign is based on nostalgia, which is not very often a good theme to orchestrate in a political campaign," said Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker. "In a sense that's what Bob Dole was doing in 1996 when he ran against Bill Clinton and evoked the Greatest Generation. It was Fleetwood Mac vs. the Andrews Sisters."

Back then, Bill Clinton was the one casting himself as the agent of change; his campaign song had Fleetwood Mac urging voters, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow."

Now the song is largely passe.

Not only does Hillary Clinton have to carefully navigate the change factor as she deploys her husband on the campaign trail, she must deal with the charisma factor as well.

He's just hands-down the better campaigner.

"When people see him and her together, she suffers by comparison even if he says nothing," says Baker. "One of the things that the Iowa caucuses demonstrated is that the DNA of political genius is not easily spliced into someone else's genetics."

Campaigning for his wife on Friday in New Hampshire, Clinton got the inevitable questions about what his role would be in a second Clinton White House, and easily fielded one about how they would resolve disagreements.

"One of us would not be thinking if we never disagreed," he said to laughter. "There is only one president."

Sen. Joe Biden, whose own presidential bid never really caught fire and came to an end in Iowa, took on the Bill Clinton factor more directly than any of the other Democratic candidates have thus far. Biden predicted that the former president would cast a huge shadow if his wife were elected, "a dominant and powerful and positive" force in her presidency.

Biden also gave a nod to the negative connotations attached to Bill Clinton, saying, "There's a lot of very good things that come with all the great things that President Clinton did, but there's also a lot of the old stuff that comes back. When I say old stuff, I'm referring to policy ... policy."

Hillary Rodham Clinton can only hope that it's only the "great stuff" that Democratic voters hark back to.

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