NASHUA, N.H. – Former President Bill Clinton returned to the presidential campaign trail Monday, arguing that his wife, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, was the candidate best suited to strengthen middle-class security.
“I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of greater importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience, and temperament,” Clinton told a crowd in the Nashua Community College gymnasium.
Far from the fiery orator who has often appeared at the podium, Clinton focused on policy and his wife’s desire to help people. He all but ignored the criticism trained on her by the Republican field.
Clinton’s first solo public appearance for his wife’s campaign comes as Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, has begun drawing the former president’s extramarital activities into the campaign conversation. On Monday, Trump told CNN that Clinton was “one of the great women abusers of all time.”
The Clinton campaign’s strategy so far has been, essentially, to turn its back to Trump’s assertions.
Apart from a brief remark likening former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is leading some polls of the Iowa caucuses, Clinton avoided direct mention of either his wife’s chief Democratic rival, US Senator Bernie Sanders, or any of the Republican presidential contenders.
Clinton centered his nearly 30-minute remarks on his wife’s hopes for aiding the middle class and boosting people out of poverty, citing her work as a young attorney from Yale Law School who sought to provide legal services to poor people.
Clinton said he believed the election would likely also hinge on “how we’re going to keep America safe and still keep it America,” and estimated that the next president would make up to three Supreme Court appointments.
Consistent with his wife’s focus over the last several months, Clinton also emphasized the opioid epidemic that has hit the country, saying three of his friends had lost kids to addiction.
The former president’s return to the state that helped resuscitate his 1992 campaign comes as his wife is locked in a primary battle with Sanders, who is from neighboring Vermont. While polling in the state has shown erratic results, some surveys give Sanders a substantial lead in New Hampshire.
The former president offered the keynote address at the state Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in December 2014, but his appearance Monday signaled a quickening of the primary’s pace with five weeks until voters go to the polls in New Hampshire.
Far less of a public presence than he was during the 2008 primary, when his remarks about Barack Obama’s campaign angered some of the party’s base, Clinton’s deployment by his wife’s campaign signals a confidence that he is still a formidable political asset.
“I won’t go through all the details of her plan, but I have reviewed it,” said Clinton, a policy wonk whose propensity for micromanagement was sometimes seen as a drawback during her previous presidential bid. The remark drew laughs.
“He still commands crowds, he’s still wildly popular, he could still probably get elected if he were eligible,” said Christopher Jenkins of Lowell on his way into Monday’s event.
Citing the local fire marshall, Clinton’s campaign said about 720 people attended the event.
Bill Clinton has a second rally scheduled Monday evening, in Exeter, N.H.