- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

APEX, N.C. (AP) — People who suggest Bill Clinton might be hurting his wife’s presidential bid more than helping it haven’t spent much time in the small towns where he draws adoring crowds of Democrats who wish he could serve a third term.

While the former president has angered some blacks with his comments about race, many voters in North Carolina, Indiana and elsewhere express deep affection for him, the only Democrat to occupy the White House since 1981. They often cite him as the main reason for supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama.

In the history of U.S. campaigns, no former president has ever come close to the level of energy and visibility that Mr. Clinton is pouring into his efforts to help his wife overtake Mr. Obama.

The seven campaign stops that Mr. Clinton has scheduled today in Indiana would exhaust many politicians half his age. Tomorrow will be his relative day of rest, with a mere five stops in North Carolina before making a jaw-dropping nine on Monday.

In a week, he will have made 42 speeches in three states. Nearly all take place in towns too small to justify visits by Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton, but which nonetheless are home to thousands of potential voters thrilled to see one of the world’s most famous people.

The former president insisted on the frantic pace, recently admonishing aides to schedule more events for him as the primary season winds down with Indiana and North Carolina voting Tuesday. His efforts have drawn mixed reviews, especially after outbursts that angered many blacks.

But those who suggest Mr. Clinton might damage his wife’s campaign have probably spent little time in Clarksburg, W.Va.; Whiting, Ind.; Elkin, N.C.; or the other towns he is hitting. He routinely draws adoring crowds of Democrats who stand attentively to hear his detailed, rapid-fire case for his wife’s election — often after waiting hours for him to arrive.

The turnouts might surprise urban Americans, especially those not enamored of the Clintons. Thousands of small-town and rural Democrats are flattered by the celebrity’s visit, and eager to show gratitude for a presidency they consider the best they have known.

The headline in Wednesday’s News Herald of Morganton, N.C., read: “Bill Clinton’s brief touchdown in Burke elicits hysteria.”

The account of “high-pitched shrieks and whoops” from fans who “jumped up and down in excitement” as his plane taxied was all the more remarkable because Mr. Clinton didn’t even speak in Morganton or Burke County. He simply used the airport to reach four other western North Carolina towns, including Boone, where 2,000 people filled a gym at Appalachian State University.

He compared his wife’s come-from-behind effort to the school’s stunning football victory over Michigan last year, and told the crowd that Democrats have held far more divisive primaries in the past.

The next day, waiting for the former president in Apex, south of Raleigh, Colleen Blondell was asked why she supports Mrs. Clinton.

“I was a Bill Clinton fan,” the pharmaceutical sales trainer said, adding that Mrs. Clinton seems likely to model her presidency on his.

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