Hillary Clinton's campaign is launching a four-week sprint to the first nominating contests of the 2016 election by deploying its most significant supporter -- former President Bill Clinton -- to the campaign trail Monday.
For her campaign, his presence provides a boost and a risk. He is stepping out from his largely behind-the-scenes role of fundraising as popular as ever with Democrats and even some swing voters, but he's also susceptible to headline-grabbing, message-scuttling unpredictability that vexed his wife's campaign eight years ago.
And Republican front-runner Donald Trump, never shy about shining a spotlight on even the most trivial liability of a rival, has in recent days eagerly talked up the former president's history of sexual indiscretions.
Clinton, though, will be on friendly turf as he stumps across New Hampshire -- a state that revived his candidacy in 1992, setting him on a path to the White House, and delivered an unexpected victory to Hillary Clinton in 2008. Now she is eager to snuff out Sen. Bernie Sanders' unlikely challenge before he can do to her what she did to President Obama in 2008 -- extend a nomination fight that might well have ended in New Hampshire.
Unlike the 2008 contest, though, Bill Clinton is being dispatched to the campaign trail from a position of strength. It was exactly eight years ago, the day after Barack Obama’s shock victory in the Iowa caucuses, that Clinton ramped up his campaigning on his wife’s behalf in the Granite State. His schedule would soon rival that of many of the candidates, packing in big crowds at school gymnasiums and small ones at local watering holes.
In the days before the first primary, he infamously struck at what he viewed as then-Sen. Obama’s muddled record on the Iraq war, labeling Obama's portrayal of himself as a staunch foe to the conflict a “fairy tale.” Weeks later, on the day of the South Carolina primary, the former president dismissed Obama’s expected victory by noting that Jesse Jackson, another African American candidate, carried the state in 1988.
Still, Clinton provided real value to his wife as the primary season slogged on, holding event after event in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania that Hillary Clinton would ultimately win to extend the nomination battle.
Any bitterness over the 2008 race seemed forgotten after Obama won the White House. Bill Clinton’s 2012 convention speech on behalf of Obama’s reelection provided a crucial shot in the arm for the Democratic ticket.
Just how active the former president will be on his wife’s behalf this year is still uncertain. As he campaigned for a Democratic Senate hopeful in 2014, he joked that he was mostly retired, but like a stabled race horse, every so often he'd be trotted out to see whether he could still round the track.
Hillary Clinton, who held three campaign events of her own in New Hampshire on Sunday, teased his arrival as an unalloyed asset.
“He’s so excited,” she told voters in Derry.
But soon after, she stared down a woman, reported to be a Republican state representative, who was shouting from the audience about Bill Clinton’s infamous past.
"You are very rude and I'm not going to ever call on you," Clinton responded. The audience cheered her.