When former President Bill Clinton was starting out with Hillary he was so struck by her intellect and ability he once suggested she should just dump him and jump into her own political career.
That did not happen, of course, and on Monday he gave an Iowa crowd his version of why Hillary Rodham Clinton did not take his advice.
"I thought it would be wrong for me to rob her of the chance to be what I thought she should be," said Clinton. "She laughed and said, 'First I love you and, second, I'm not going to run for anything, I'm too hardheaded."'
She is running for president now, and husband Bill was stumping for her in the 2008 campaign's leadoff nominating state of Iowa - two days after rival Democrat Barack Obama got a full weekend's worth of attention by bringing in talk show queen Oprah Winfrey to campaign for him.
The former president opened a two-day swing through Iowa on behalf of his wife, packing nearly 500 people into a theater on the campus of Iowa State University.
"She has spent a lifetime as a change agent when she had the option to do other things," he said.
"I thought she was the most gifted person of our generation," said Clinton, who said he told her, "You know, you really should dump me and go back home to Chicago or go to New York and take one of those offers you've got and run for office."
Now that she is a New York senator and in a tight Democratic contest - with Illinois Sen. Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards - the former president said he wanted to persuade voters that she has "the best combination of mind and heart."
He offered a self-deprecating view of the couple's early life in Arkansas.
"When she came down there and we got married, I was a defeated candidate for Congress with a $26,000 salary and a $42,00 campaign debt," said Clinton. "If she were half as calculating as someone said, that's a really great way to run for president."
In his latest Iowa swing, Clinton is bringing heavy attention to his wife, who is competing in the precinct caucuses that will launch the presidential nominating season on Jan. 3.
"It's one thing to have good intentions; it is another thing entirely to change people's lives," Clinton said. "She's the best non-incumbent I have ever had a chance to vote for. In my whole life I've never met anyone like her."
While Clinton remains very popular among Democrats, his image is mixed in the wider population. An Associated Press-Yahoo poll last month showed that 54 percent of those questioned had a very or somewhat favorable view of the former president, while 43 percent had a very or somewhat unfavorable view.
"I'm out of politics now except every two years the Democrats kind of haul me out of the barn like an old horse to see if I can make it around the track one more time," he told the crowd at a campaign stop.
Clinton said he would understand if people assume he has a prejudice in the 2008 race. "I always tell people when I speak that you're entitled to discount what I have to say," he said. "I want to say a few things that are very personal."
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