MUSCATINE, Iowa — Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring America “back to the future,” husband Bill says, promoting his own legacy in public life almost as much as his wife’s presidential campaign.
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Showing inconsistency on an issue that has dogged his wife, the former president also told Iowa Democrats that he “opposed (war in) Iraq from the beginning.”
His visit to Iowa marked the start of a battle of campaign surrogates — Clinton vs. Winfrey, the former president stumping for his wife and media mogul Oprah Winfrey backing Sen. Clinton’s chief rival, Barack Obama, in appearances scheduled for next week.
“Oprah vs. Bill! Now, there’s a race,” said Gail VanGundy, 59, an undecided voter who said the former president is a bigger draw for her than Winfrey.
“Both have star power,” said Alfred Monroe, 76, as he awaited the former president’s appearance in this eastern Iowa town.
Star power on the trail
Clinton himself said Winfrey ought to be for Obama because both hail from Chicago. He didn’t mention that his wife is also from suburban Chicago. “I like Oprah Winfrey,” he said. “We’re friends.”
Whether surrogates like Clinton and Winfrey sway voters is debatable, but operatives in both campaigns welcome their ability to draw crowds and attention in the closing days of a hotly contested race.
Speaking for more than an hour, Clinton discussed his wife’s agenda and experience in exhaustive terms, sprinkling the remarks with asides about his presidency and his activities on the world stage since he left office in January 2001.
“I think she has proven in all these debates, and especially the last one, that she is the strongest, most reliable person that we could elect,” the former president told more than 400 potential voters at a YMCA gym.
Adding to confusion on Iraq issue
On Iraq, he told the crowd that wealthy people like he and his wife should pay more taxes in times of war. “Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers,” Clinton said.
He has not clearly opposed the war from the start. Like his wife, the former president has been critical of the Iraq war in recent months, but at one time he gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt. “I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” he said in May 2003, the same year he was quoted praising Bush’s handling of the war.
Asked about the discrepancy, Clinton aides said Tuesday’s comment was a short-handed explanation of his long-held views that weapons inspectors should have been given more time in Iraq. “As he said before the war and many times since, President Clinton disagreed with taking the country to war without allowing the weapons inspectors to finish their jobs,” said spokesman Jay Carson.
In three eastern Iowa stops, Clinton made a personal appeal for voters to back his wife. He said his opinion should matter because “I know what it takes to be president” and “because of the life I’ve lived since I left office.”
He seemed to suggest that the nation needs a return to 1990s sensibilities.
“Here’s why I think that she is the person to bring us the right kind of change that we need. First of all, what kind of change do we need? We need to get American back to the future. We need to get America back to the solutions business.”
He said his wife has the experience to be president, noting among other things her work as Arkansas’ first lady on behalf of school standards, her travels as the nation’s first lady to 82 countries and her victory as a Senate candidate in several GOP counties in New York.
Left off his list of Sen. Clinton’s experiences: her stewardship of the Clinton administration health care plan that failed in the 1990s.
“You need somebody who is strong, competent, has a good vision and never forgets what it’s like to be you,” Clinton said.
He pulled a pledge card out of his pocket, held it up to the crowd and asked people to caucus on his wife’s behalf Jan. 3.
“The reason I want you to sign one of these cards is because I know her,” he said. “I hope you make her the next president because she would be a great president and you would never, ever regret it.”
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