Clinton and Clinton Warm Iowa Crowd

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York unveiled the latest weapon in her quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee: her husband. Former President Bill Clinton joined her in Iowa, raising questions among some about whether he will help or hurt his wife.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Hillary Clinton has been leading the polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but her rival, Barack Obama, has released numbers showing that he's outfundraising her. Yesterday, Mrs. Clinton brought out a new weapon - her husband. Questions will be asked throughout this campaign about whether former President Bill Clinton will help or hurt his wife's chances. But last night, at the Iowa State fairgrounds, the former president and the presidential hopeful began an Iowa road show.

NPR's David Greene Reports.

DAVID GREENE: Bill Clinton certainly added open thing to his wife's campaign last night - the tendency to be late.

Wasn't it supposed to start at 7:30?

Ms. PEG RUP(ph): That's what I thought. That's what my mom told me, anyway.

GREENE: Peg Rup was among thousands of Iowans milling around their state fairgrounds, With no Clintons in sight, Peg Rup had some time to tell an outsider about the annual state fair that begins in a few weeks. I asked her what her favorite attraction is.

Ms. RUP: The butter cow.

GREENE: What is it?

Ms. RUP: It's a cow made out of butter.

GREENE: A cow made out of butter?

Ms. RUP: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GREENE: How big are we talking here?

Ms. RUP: Oh, how big would - it's my size.

GREENE: If you were told, this year you can only see Bill Clinton or the butter cow, which would you choose?

Ms. RUP: I guess I'm here for Bill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: And Bill Clinton, she said, is probably going to help his wife on the campaign trail. But she had some questions.

Ms. RUP: Is he campaigning for her, or is he campaigning for him? I think he has a little bit of tarnishing that he wants to straighten up. You know, he was always have good presence, but he had some things go kind of bad. So now this is a second chance for him to prove that, you know, I'm still for the people.

GREENE: Nearby, Ron and Brenda Reynolds were also passing the time thinking about what title people would give to Bill Clinton if his wife became president.

Mr. RON REYNOLDS: She'd be called Madam President or Mrs. President. And former Bill Clinton? President Clinton? That's one of the questions I'd like to ask.

Ms. BRENDA REYNOLDS: I think he should be first husband and pick up the drapes and decide who's going to sit where. I think it would be kind of fun.

GREENE: Finally, more than an hour behind schedule, came the big introduction.

Unidentified Woman #1: Please welcome our friend, President Bill Clinton.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

President BILL CLINTON: Thank you.

GREENE: The former president grabbed the handheld microphone and started warming up the crowd.

Pres. CLINTON: There's one guy back in the back over there that represents a group I belong to. It says husbands for Hillary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: He spoke for only a few minutes, and it was all about his wife - her time giving legal services to the needy, her time as New York's senator helping sick firefighters after the 9/11 attacks. He even brought up her bid as first lady to create universal healthcare.

Pres. CLINTON: We tried and failed to pass healthcare reform. I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing. I'd rather be caught trying to do something that needs to be done than hanging around shooting the wounded when it doesn't happen.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GREENE: And before long, he handed the microphone to his wife. Senator Clinton said her husband pretty much said it all.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): You know, if I were as smart as Bill seems to suggest I am, I would say nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Still, she went on to talk about healthcare, education and Iraq. And she praised her husband, saying he built solid relations with other countries.

Sen. CLINTON: I'm proud of the diplomatic efforts that my husband undertook that has really made people feel over time that the Untied States was an honest broker and a mediator and a conciliator.

GREENE: President Bush, she argued, has hurt the nation's image, and Mrs. Clinton said she wants the chance to restore it. She reminded voters here that when her husband first ran, he abandoned the Iowa caucuses, since Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was such a clear favorite.

Sen. CLINTON: I'm excited to be doing this and I'm thrilled to finally find something in politics that I'm doing that my husband didn't do. So this is a very special occasion for me.

GREENE: And her husband is staying by her side today. The couple is jumping on a bus this morning and beginning a tour through the state.

David Greene, NPR News, Des Moines.

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