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Bill Clinton Hits The Campaign Trail For His Wife In New Hampshire

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Every presidential candidate needs surrogates to help make their case on the stump. It helps if the person is high profile - say, a past president of the United States. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton just so happens to be married to one. Today in New Hampshire, Bill Clinton hit the trail for his wife. NPR's Tamara Keith joins us from Nashua Community College where the former president gave a speech earlier today. Hey there, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: All right. So looking back in 2008, I can remember when people worried that Bill Clinton might upstage his wife on the campaign trail. And then, of course, he actually angered some black voters when he criticized Barack Obama. Which Bill Clinton kind of showed up in New Hampshire today?

KEITH: It's a different Bill Clinton. It's been eight years, and that time seems to have had a mellowing effect on him. He was subdued and started out spending a surprising amount of time talking about various newspaper articles he's read lately. But then he rounded a corner and said that this campaign is personal to him. And he started telling stories about his wife, including his first impression of her when they met 45 years ago in law school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL CLINTON: I thought she was the most amazing person because unlike now where more than half the law students in America are women, then, they were a distinct minority. And there she was at law school. She could've written her ticket to go anywhere she wanted. All she was really interested in was providing legal services to poor people.

KEITH: And then he walked through Hillary Clinton's career, listing accomplishments along the way. And he told several anecdotes about her getting things done against the odds, including getting China and Russia to sign onto Iran sanctions when she was secretary of state and even when she was first lady working on bipartisan legislation with Republicans in Congress.

CORNISH: Now, this might seem like an obvious question, but what are the risks for Hillary Clinton in bringing out Bill Clinton onto the campaign trail - right? - I mean, obviously a complicated legacy there.

KEITH: Yes. He presided over strong economic growth, but he also brought scandal to the White House. And since it was announced that he was going to be campaigning for his wife, Donald Trump has been tweeting like crazy about Clinton's past indiscretions. And Hillary Clinton yesterday got heckled here in New Hampshire where she was campaigning. The heckler told reporters that she was trying to ask Clinton about her husband's past sexual improprieties. The woman was shouted down by the audience, but Clinton made it clear there at that event that she was not going to respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: You are very rude, and I'm not going to ever call on you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: And despite that, the campaign has concluded that the positives of having Bill Clinton campaign for his wife clearly outweigh the negatives. He remains hugely popular among Democrats especially.

CORNISH: But let's get into this. What are those positives, right? What does she have to gain?

KEITH: Well, there are not a lot of surrogates who can draw a crowd of 700 people in the middle of a workday when it's freezing cold outside, but Bill Clinton can. And several of the people here who I interviewed said that they were leaving inspired, that they learned new things about Hillary Clinton that they can then use as ammunition to try to convince others to vote for her. And also, he's her husband. He can say things about her that she can't really say about herself. He can brag on her. And when he was at his best today, that's what he was doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

B. CLINTON: I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience and temperament to do what needs to be done now to restore prosperity.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: And if you're listening closely, you can hear jabs in there at Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, and even Bernie Sanders, her chief component on the Democratic side.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith on the trail with Bill Clinton in New Hampshire today. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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