NEW YORK (AP) — After largely staying in the background as Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off her second campaign for president, former President Bill Clinton is ready to take on a more public role in his wife’s second bid for the White House.
Bill Clinton’s move to deepen his political involvement comes as his wife confronts the insurgent campaign of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and the chance that Vice President Joe Biden could make a late entry into the race.
Friends and former aides say the former president is eager to become a more vocal advocate for her candidacy. “He’s going to be very active,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidant. “He always intended to come out and support his wife. He’s now at the point that he’s ready to get out there.”
Shortly after Tuesday’s close of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative — the crown jewel of the sprawling charitable network Bill Clinton established after leaving the White House — the former president is scheduled to embark upon a series of political events.
The events follow a forceful defense of his wife, arguing that she faces the same kind of partisan attacks over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state that plagued his administration.
“It’s obvious to anyone who’s looking what’s going on. But I’m glad it happened in 2015 instead of 2016 and I believe it will burn itself out,” Bill Clinton said in a Monday interview with CNBC.
While longtime Clinton backers consider the former president one of her strongest advocates, campaign aides worried his presence early in the campaign could undermine their efforts to reintroduce Hillary Clinton to voters.
“There’s going to be good opportunities for him to support her, but the focus has been on Hillary and the people she’s fighting for,” said Mike Vlacich, Clinton’s New Hampshire state director.
But that calculation seems to be shifting, as Clinton’s position as the Democratic front-runner continues to erode in polling of crucial early voting states.
Earlier this month, Bill Clinton filled in for his wife at fundraisers in Chicago. Later this week, he plans to raise money at events in Atlanta and suburban Kansas City before headlining an annual dinner for the West Virginia Democratic Party. He’ll also woo donors in suburban Detroit in October.
While no large campaign rallies featuring Clinton are in the works, fundraisers across the country are working with his team to firm up dates for other events. Clinton has also indicated that he would be open to raising money for the Democratic Super PAC supporting his wife’s campaign, some donors said.
“He’s the next best person to her to do events and raise primary money,” said Steve Elemendorf, a veteran Democratic strategist who is raising money for Clinton.
With the highest favorability rating of any living president, Clinton is considered one of his party’s most effective messengers. But as he showed in 2008, with remarks about then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama that angered black voters, he can also be an undisciplined campaigner.
“I love my husband, and you know, he does get upset when I am attacked,” Hillary Clinton said Sunday in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press. “I totally get that.”
At the recent events in Chicago, Bill Clinton warned the crowd that winning the White House is always a grueling process, “no matter who you are” and that electing a Democrat for a third term would be particularly difficult.
“He’s excited to get out there and do it and make sure he’s letting people know what the best features of Hillary are,” said Clinton fundraiser J.B. Pritzker, who escorted the former president to the events. “He’s deep into it.”
Friends and former aides have said Clinton told them that he wanted to focus on his foundation’s work at least until this fall, in part to ensure that the charity he spent more than a decade building remains robust should his wife win the White House and he’s forced to scale back his role.
Some top dignitaries, including Obama, opted to skip the Clinton charity’s annual meeting this week, amid increased scrutiny of the foundation’s internal workings and the heated politics of Clinton’s presidential bid. At the opening event of his annual meeting, surrounded by Nobel Prize winners, celebrities and corporate sponsors, Clinton vowed the work of his foundation would continue — with or without its namesake.
“Ten years from now somebody will be here,” he said. “I’d like it if I could outlive every man in my family and be one of them, but we’ll see.”
Associated Press writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.