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Former president Clinton on mission to rescue Democratic Party in fall elections

As one of the most popular politicians in the nation, Clinton is using his credibility to help his party.

Democratic candidates of all stripes are funneling requests and seeking advice through his top aide, Douglas Band. Clinton prioritizes politicians who helped his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her 2008 presidential campaign. (As secretary of state, she is banned from political activity.) He also has paid special care to loyal friends such as Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (D-Fla.), who, despite running a distant third in his Senate race, has drawn Clinton for more than a half-dozen visits, most recently this week.

The White House and congressional leaders do not coach him on what to say. Clinton does not read from a prompter and only rarely refers to his notes at the lectern. He gives no interviews with local or national reporters and on most days races in his motorcade from airport to rally to airport again.

Clinton speaks infrequently with the candidates - in some cases not at all before showing up for an event. Clinton always has been a voracious consumer of news, especially political news, and aides say he stays up to speed on their races.

This is evident in his speeches. He devotes a substantial portion to the local issues defining specific races. In Washington state, he mused repeatedly about a Boeing tanker deal. In New Mexico, he riffed at length about water use and encroachment from neighboring Texas.

At each stop, Clinton waxes nostalgic, as if he were revisiting an old haunt. At San Jose State: "In 1992, when I ran for president the first time, the best rally we had in all of California was here at San Jose State." In New Mexico: "When you voted for me twice, I got to know this state and know its people, and know the unique heart and soul and dreams, and know the way you accommodate all this diversity and build a common sense of humanity here. It means something to me. You're special to America."

After every speech, he flings off his suit jacket and works the crowd. He wraps his arms around folks and listens for cues about what ails America. Clinton's speeches are bookended by thumping tunes - a Motown classic in Everett, a Kanye West hit at San Jose State's arena, a mariachi folk song in Espanola.

"I keep thinking I'm too old for this," Clinton quipped to a crowd of 5,000 as the sun set behind him over the open-air Plaza de Espanola at a rally for New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish.

"No! No! No!" the crowd cried out.

"Then I got out here and started stirring around and realized a lot of people were mad and even more confused, and I didn't want it on my conscience," Clinton said. "So I sort of loaded up and started strolling around."

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