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'Billary' campaign heats up in an Iowa July blitz

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Couple woos Iowa

The force dubbed "Billary" - the duo of former President Clinton and his leading Democratic candidate wife - argued this week for something of a third term in the White House, telling Iowa voters a return to the Clinton years is the best remedy for the Bush era.

"Yesterday's news was pretty good," said Bill Clinton, taking a jab at critics who call the former first couple old news.

In joint appearances where they stressed a close - even romantic - partnership, the Clintons sought to give Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton the advantages of quasi-incumbency while portraying her as an agent of change. It's a difficult balance in Iowa, site of the first caucus and where Sen. Clinton faces a tough challenge from two fresher faces: Barack Obama and John Edwards.

"I know that some of you are very excited about the fact that we have a chance to make history together and elect the first woman president in the United States," she said, drawing the most enthusiastic applause of her Iowa speeches.

"Well, I'm excited by that, too. But I'm not running because I'm a woman. I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified and experienced person to hit the ground running in January 2009."

Her husband reminded a crowd of a couple of thousand at the University of Iowa Tuesday of the economic prosperity during his two terms and ticked off a list of accomplishments on the environment, college aid and establishment of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"I know some people sort of say, 'Well, you know, look at them. They're old,'" he said, as his wife smile sheepishly, put her hand over her brow and shook her head. "They're sort of yesterday's news, you know. Well, yesterday's news was pretty good."

The former president makes sure to try to keep the focus on her, making a glowing introduction at the Iowa rallies, then sitting in the background or stepping off the stage during her performance. She uses her time to criticize President Bush's record. The New York senator, born in the Chicago suburbs, also talks about her family and Midwestern values.

The joint appearance during their three-day trip to Iowa came as Hillary Clinton's aura of inevitability took a hit this week. Obama outraised her by $10 million in second-quarter contributions that can be spent on the Democratic primary contest.

The Clintons appearance also came six weeks after an internal campaign memo contended that she should skip the Iowa caucuses and concentrate on other early states where she has a better chance of winning. Clinton, who trails 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards in Iowa polls, dismissed the memo and said she would compete.

In her Iowa City appearance, Hillary Clinton didn't shy from discussing her controversial role as health policy adviser in his administration, saying she is determined to make sure every American has quality, affordable health care.

Clinton said she soon will meet with doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and patients to get their input on her health care plan.

"I'm convinced that the time has come for us to do this," she said.

While Bill Clinton offered the highlights of his presidency, the lowlights weren't far away.

In a brief telephone interview, Hillary Clinton drew a distinction between Bush's decision to commute the sentence of White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - which she has harshly criticized - and her husband's 140 pardons in his closing hours in office.

"I believe that presidential pardon authority is available to any president, and almost all presidents have exercised it," Clinton told the AP. "This (the Libby decision) was clearly an effort to protect the White House..."

The Clintons stopped twice at ice cream parlors, including an afternoon visit to a local Davenport shop called Whitey's. They ate their ice cream while posing for pictures with other patrons, including a little girl, who wasn't afraid to correct the former president when he greeted her as Tracy.

"No, Gracie!" she insisted.

At the rally, Bill Clinton also called his wife the most qualified and said he watched her make a difference in people's lives as first lady in Arkansas and the White House.

"We sort of changed roles now. For our first 20 some years we knew each other, I was in politics and Hillary was a public servant without public office," he said.

The Clintons' Iowa tour was tightly scripted with limited media access. Campaign staff's key report was about the couple's breakfast and a stop at a Dairy Queen for a Snickers Blizzard.

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