By Reporters
msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 7/2/2007 8:34:56 PM ET 2007-07-03T00:34:56

Presidential candidates flocked to Iowa for a week of Fourth of July campaigning in the state that holds the first major contest of the 2008 race, marked by Bill Clinton’s first appearance on the campaign trail with his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

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The former president was to join his wife at a ticket-only fundraiser Monday night in Davenport. While Bill Clinton has joined Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., at some public events — notably the funeral of Coretta Scott King — the event Monday night marks their first formal joint campaign appearance since Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in January.

Campaign aides told NBC News that they had long planned to have the couple campaign together, but they indicated that it was no coincidence that the first joint appearance comes on the same day that campaign finance statements showed that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., raised more money than Clinton in the second quarter .

The timing of Bill Clinton’s debut on the campaign’s main stage has been a matter of some concern for campaign officials, who must weigh whether the former president’s star power could overshadow the candidate’s message. But the aides said the financial reports led them to conclude that it was time to “pull out all the stops.”

Video: Picnics and politics in Iowa

The former president’s role will be limited to talking up his wife’s personal side, particularly her family life and her advocacy for children, the aides said, to reduce the chance of his stealing center stage.

The Iowa caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 14, are considered the first crucial test of candidates’ organizations. With the primary campaign expected to be radically compressed after several large states moved up their primaries to February, the need for a strong showing in Iowa drew several candidates to the state for week of July 4 picnics, fundraisers and stump speeches.

Clinton campaign manager Terry McAuliffe said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that “we’re very happy that we’re going to have all the money we need,” but he acknowledged that the race with Obama was heating up because “this is going to be over in 22 days” in January and February.

Bill Clinton to the rescue?
That means it’s time for the major candidates to pull out their big guns, and for the Clinton campaign, that means it’s time for Bill Clinton.

“The amazing thing is how well both of them have done,” Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said of Clinton and Obama on “Hardball.” But he said Obama had galvanized Democrats to a historic degree, adding: “What he’s doing is bring hundreds of thousands of people to the Democratic Party.”

Bill Clinton’s increased prominence could help Sen. Clinton close the gap. “He’s obviously a huge asset as a very popular former president,” Dean said.

Among the Democrats, Obama was scheduled to arrive in the state Tuesday, and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware was already there for a meet-and-greet house party Monday, while Republican former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts arrived for a series of small gatherings across the state during the week.

Another leading Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was scrambling to salvage his campaign after a second straight poor fundraising quarter. The campaign announced that it would lay off as many as 50 staffers, and campaign manager, Terry Nelson, said he would give up his salary.

The senator planned to head to Iowa as soon as he returned from a visit to Iraq, but having already abandoned plans to compete in the closely watched Ames straw poll in August to save money, he acknowledged in an interview with the Des Moines Register last week that “I’ve got a lot of work to do in Iowa.”

Alex Johnson is a reporter for MSNBC.com. NBC News’ Alison Kartevold reported from Davenport, Iowa.

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