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Former US President Campaigns for Wife in Democratic Primary Elections

The circumstance is unprecedented in U.S. history -- a presidential spouse running for the highest office. That is the case in the Democratic Party this year as former President Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, who seeks the job her husband left seven years ago. There have been father and son presidencies in the past. And distant cousins have served as commanders-in-chief. But not this, and Mr. Clinton has taken an increasingly high profile in his wife's campaign, a role that has become increasingly controversial in both political parties. VOA's Jim Fry reports.

Former President Bill Clinton still attracts an enthusiastic crowd, such as one in California. There, a schoolgirl remarked, "Bill Clinton was going to be here, so everybody was, like, 'Oh, we want to go.'"

A woman said, "Seems like it's been a really, really, really long time -- way longer than eight years since I've had any hope. So, I'm looking for a little hope."

Campaigning for his wife, Mr. Clinton speaks of the possibilities. Senator Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination, could become the first woman president.

He also points out, her Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, could become the first African-American to occupy the White House. "We are living the American dream. We're making America's tomorrow. And we should all be happy about that."

But in recent days, Mr. Clinton has argued with reporters -- such as bitingly asking one about Nevada's caucus rules. He has gone on the attack, in New Hampshire calling into question Obama's opposition to the Iraq war. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairly tale I have ever seen," Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton became an issue between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama in a South Carolina debate. Senator Obama said, "When Senator Clinton says-- er, President Clinton says -- that I wasn't opposed to the war from the start -- or says it's a fairy tale that I opposed the war -- that is simply not true."

Some leading Democrats, including Clinton's former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, are calling on the former president to tone down his rhetoric. "He may be hurting himself, hurting his legacy, hurting the Democratic Party and he may even be hurting his wife's campaign."

American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman says this is a new dynamic in American politics. "That is absolutely without precedent in the entire history of the country. Usually, ex-presidents try to stay out of political squabbles. Bill Clinton relishes it."

When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he could consult his father, who held the office eight years earlier. But Lichtman says former President George H.W. Bush kept a lower profile.

Mr. Clinton spent several days campaigning in South Carolina for his wife. Political experts say he is likely to help in Democratic Party primary elections. But scholar Norm Ornstein adds, "People remember the good things about the Clinton presidency but there's an awful lot of baggage there that becomes a problem in a general election."

In a recent Republican presidential debate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney raised the issue. "The idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I can't imagine -- I can't imagine the American people can imagine."

This week, Mr. Clinton argued with another reporter who asked him about criticism within his own party. He said, "They're [the other candidates' campaigns] feeding you this because they know this is what you want to cover. This is what you live for. But this hurts the people of South Carolina," he said angrily.

As the campaign heads toward votes in more than 20 states, neither Clinton is backing down.