Bill Clinton takes Hillary's campaign to N.J.

January 29, 2008 4:35:50 PM PST
After taking heat over the weekend for injecting race and negativity into his wife's campaign, former president Bill Clinton resumed the role of supportive spouse at a rally Tuesday in New Jersey.

Clinton said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would strengthen the nation's middle class - as he did.

"These are tough times. We can bring America back. We've done it before," Clinton told a boisterous crowd at Camden County College, where he was stumping for his wife a week before the state's presidential primary election. "She will do it."

The event comes three days after Sen. Barack Obama won an easy victory over Sen. Clinton in South Carolina. There, the former president was harshly critical of Obama, a tactic that some say cost his wife votes.

At Tuesday's rally, Clinton did not mention Obama by name or speak of the recent divisiveness in the campaign for the Democratic nomination.

"Hillary believes there are only two things that matter in a president," Clinton said. "Number one, are people better off when you stopped than when you started? And, number two, do our children and grandchildren have a brighter, more peaceful and more secure future?"

Clinton's 30-minute speech touched on issues ranging from health care and energy independence to the federal budget, college loans and America's diminished standing in the global community. Throughout his speech, made without notes before a packed room of 1,500 people with 400 more watching from an overflow room in a nearby building, Clinton emphasized his wife's fitness for the presidency.

On student loans, he talked about how Hillary Clinton's policies would echo those he implemented. And he addressed how as a senator representing New York, she was among the first politicians to realize that 9/11 rescue workers could be at risk because of toxins in the air after the attacks.

"That's the person I would be here for if we never had been married," he said.

"We have to send a different message to the world and she is uniquely qualified to do it," Clinton said. "And the message goes like this, 'We're back."'

He mentioned race early in his talk, promising that if his wife were president, no one would be excluded from opportunities because of their race.

It's uncertain whether Hillary Clinton or Obama will be in the Garden State again before Feb. 5, when 22 states, including New Jersey, hold primaries or caucuses.

Bill Clinton has a history in southern New Jersey: It was his first stop after winning the Democratic nomination for president in 1992.

He most recently visited New Jersey in December, speaking at a campaign fundraiser in New Brunswick after bad weather in Iowa forced Hillary to miss the event.

In that 20-minute speech, he made the case as to why Hillary would make a good president and seemed comfortable assuming a supporting role.

After Hillary lost to Obama in Iowa, Bill Clinton became more aggressive in his criticism of Obama, angering some party leaders and prompting talk of possible voter backlash.

But the Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey and an early Clinton supporter, said the recent rough-and-tumble among the leading Democrats would ultimately toughen them up for the battle against the Republican nominee.

"While I am concerned about the whole issue of race, I think long-term this will be good for Sen. Clinton and Barack Obama. Whichever one becomes the nominee will be prepared for what will surely be an onslaught from the Republicans," Jackson said. "You can call this spring training."