Hillary Clinton Embraces Her Husband's Legacy

By Anne E. Kornblut and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 22, 2007

CONCORD, N.H., Dec. 21 -- After months of discussion within her campaign over how heavily she should draw on her husband's legacy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is closing out her Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns in a tight embrace of Bill Clinton's record, helping fuel a debate about the 1990s with Sen. Barack Obama that she thinks she can win.

As part of the Clinton strategy, the former president is playing an increasingly prominent public role as an advocate for his wife. He appears to have overcome concerns within the campaign over how closely she should associate her candidacy with his time in office and over whether his appearances could draw attention away from her.

Both Clintons are making the case that theirs was a co-presidency -- an echo of Bill Clinton's controversial statement during the 1992 campaign that voters would get "two for the price of one" if they elected him. At times, the former president has seemed to cast the current race as a referendum on his administration.

Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), the Democratic front-runner nationally but facing strong challenges in Iowa and New Hampshire from Obama, has shifted her emphasis repeatedly over the past few months as the senator from Illinois made inroads in the two states. She has tried to show a more "human" side, and on Friday brought along her daughter, Chelsea, and her mother to events here titled "The Hillary I Know."

She has tried to co-opt the message of change from Obama, declaring that she has been "working for change" her entire life. Over the past week, she injected the phrase "new beginning" into her stump speech.

But the unchanging core of Clinton's message is her experience, and in recent days she has presented the election as a binary choice: between a competent, experienced Clinton and novices such as Obama. "That's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place," she said this week in Iowa.

And the main basis for her assertion is the time she spent as first lady. Bill Clinton is hitting the theme hard as the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire draws closer, pointing back to the 1990s, citing his record as his wife's, referring to the work "we" did in office and, for the most part, brushing past or ignoring the tumult of those years.

Nowhere is the back-to-the-future approach more visible than here in the state where the then-Arkansas governor overcame a scandal to become the self-proclaimed "comeback kid" in the 1992 Democratic primary and to finish second to former senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.

Campaigning here on Friday, Hillary Clinton recalled that voters complained back then about lacking health care, fearing unemployment and facing home foreclosures. "And we listened and we acted and we had the best economy that our country has seen in a generation. And now I'm back in New Hampshire" hearing many of the same complaints, she said.

Obama has made challenging the 1990s a mainstay of his platform, saying it is time to "turn the page" on the partisanship -- and implicitly the scandals -- of the Clinton era. This is a major part of his case that he is the most electable Democrat, able to expand the electoral base to states where Hillary Clinton is still viewed as polarizing.

But the Clintons regard any discussion of the Nineties to be good for them, evoking memories of a booming economy and a time when the United States enjoyed greater popularity around the world.

Clinton is preparing to make a closing argument to Iowa and New Hampshire voters that would center on the challenges of the presidency, arguing that only she can be trusted to handle the surprises and rigors of the job, according to her senior advisers. That emphasis, on her experience and her track record, makes the previous Clinton administration a vital part of her case.

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