DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The force dubbed "Billary" - the combination of former President Clinton and his wife - hit Iowa in earnest Tuesday, focusing on lifting her candidacy in an early voting state that one aide has described as her weakest.
The Clintons were campaigning across the state for three days, with events ranging from Tuesday's rally at the University of Iowa to marching in the Clear Lake Independence Day parade Wednesday. The two tried to win over more than 300 Iowa caucusgoers Tuesday morning at a private breakfast on the state fairgrounds.
The two arrived Monday night for a picturesque rally at the fairgrounds, complete with hay bails with little American flags, thousands of sign-waving voters and a fireworks display. It was the first time they appeared together in one of the early nominating states that are the focus of the 2008 race since she entered it.
Bill Clinton said he is backing his wife because she is the most qualified, not because of any spousal obligation.
"All you have to do is decide who do you think will be the best president," he said. "Here's what I want to say to you: I'd be here tonight if she asked me if we weren't married."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said she was "thrilled to finally find something in politics that I'm doing that my husband didn't do." Bill Clinton skipped the Iowa caucuses in 1992 because Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was running against him.
Bringing out the former president is not without risks.
He tried not to overshadow his wife at the fairgrounds, keeping his remarks to an uncharacteristically brief 8½ minutes. She spoke for about half and hour and was applauded for saying she would expand health care coverage and energy sources, but she also showed her senatorial side by using phrases like "photovoltaic panels" and "geothermal energy."
Some people began to leave before Hillary Clinton finished.
The former president's visit comes six weeks after an internal campaign memo by a senior staffer suggested she should skip Iowa and invest her resources in other early voting states. Clinton distanced herself from the memo, which called Iowa "our consistently weakest state," and said she would continue to compete vigorously in the state.
Clinton leads the Democratic field in most polls, but she has yet to break out from rival John Edwards in Iowa, which is scheduled to hold the nation's first presidential caucus on Jan. 14.
After the Clintons' trip was announced, Democratic rival Barack Obama said he would be visiting the state with his wife and daughters in a dueling family holiday. Last week, Obama launched two biographical ads in the state.
Even though he is more controversial among the general electorate, Bill Clinton is popular among Democrats who will decide the nomination. According to a CBS News poll, 79 percent of Democrats view Bill Clinton favorably, compared to two-thirds who said they have a favorable view of his wife.
Republicans used the joint appearance to remind voters of their personal problems.
"After Bill Clinton tarnished the name of the president of the United States, the Republican Party restored hope, respect and morality within the Oval Office by bringing positive ideas and conservative values back to the White House," the Iowa Republican Party said in an e-mail sent to reporters. "Neither Iowans nor the rest of the country need to witness another Clinton catastrophe."
Elementary school principal Clark Wicks of Perry, Iowa, said he thinks of Bill Clinton as a strong president who did a lot of good for the country.
"He made a lot of poor choices on the side," Wicks said, sitting with his wife under a shade tree before the event started. "But, boy, not as many as our current president on the economy, the war, education."
Bill Clinton only joined his wife publicly once before since she announced her candidacy - during a commemoration of the civil rights march in Selma, Ala., where Obama, the only black candidate in the race, threatened to overshadow her.