By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008
AMHERST, N.H., Jan. 5 -- He's no kid anymore, and it's his wife who is attempting the comeback. But former president Bill Clinton looked and certainly sounded Saturday like a politician whose legacy is on the line.
As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) campaigned an hour away in Durham, barely mentioning her husband as she sought to rebound from her stinging Iowa loss, Bill Clinton blended a retrospective on his long career with highlights from his wife's r¿sum¿ and assessments of where she stands on the major issues of the day. But for the most part, it was Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton, a weary warrior fighting against a powerful wave.
His speech was sprinkled with phrases such as "the day I left office" and "based on what I believe." He said of the other Democrats chasing the nomination, "I like these people," and he recalled how he had campaigned for both Barack Obama (Ill.) and John Edwards (N.C.) when they were running for the Senate. "I'm not against anybody," Clinton said. But returning to the topic of his wife, he asserted: "She's the best candidate for president I've ever had the chance to vote for in my life."
After Hillary Clinton's third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses on Thursday night, Bill Clinton flew to New Hampshire with his wife. He took up his separate schedule, hoping to reprise his "Comeback Kid" effort in a state that he has long considered a political second home, but on this visit he has returned to a volatile political environment that may have outgrown even the former president's outsized charm. Facing in Obama a candidate with charisma of his own and a message of change, even Clinton advisers conceded that, of all the images that the former president conveys, a fresh face is not one of them.
Does Clinton himself sense this? At their joint event on Friday morning, Clinton scanned the crowd as his wife spoke, biting his nails.
Although he was nearby during his wife's conference calls throughout the day and remains in constant touch with her, advisers said he had not come down on any particular members of her staff about the Iowa defeat -- at least, not yet. He did blame the news media, at least in part for the Iowa outcome, contending that reporters have given a free pass to Obama, who won the caucuses by a convincing eight percentage points.
Yet Clinton remains a rock star among the Democratic Party faithful, and in his speech here Saturday, he framed his wife's candidacy as a resumption of his own tenure. "Remember how bad the economy was when I was president?" he joked, touting Hillary Clinton's job-creation agenda. Citing her commitment to budget discipline, he noted: "We paid down the debt." And channeling his own final days in New Hampshire 15 years ago, Clinton reminded the crowd: "I said I would be with you until the last. I tell you that because, that's the kind of person she is."
He slipped on velvet gloves for a few veiled swipes at Obama. "You have to decide what this election is about," Clinton instructed the crowd. "Do you want a feeling of change, do you want the facts of change? Do you want the words that sound good, or do you want the actions that change your life for the better? I have never known anybody who can make a more positive difference in more peoples' lives even without a political office. If you make her president of the United States, there is no limit to what she will achieve. She will make a great, great president."
But he was rarely animated. When audience members asked questions, Clinton stole looks around the room. For once, he kept his eye on the clock. "I gotta run," he called out when the hour was up. "God bless you."
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.