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The Clintons, messages and Iowa

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Bill Clinton has been talking about change a
lot on the campaign trail these days, arguing that Hillary Clinton has
been an agent of positive change for 35 years. Is he now changing his
wife's message in the final days before the crucial Iowa caucuses?

In two speeches here Saturday, the former president summed up his
wife's plans for her presidency by talking about three major goals. For
months on the stump now, Hillary Clinton has been spelling out her four
big goals for America: restoring the country's leadership in the world,
rebuilding a strong and prosperous middle class, reforming the
government and reclaiming the future for America's children, but Bill
didn't mention government reform in his speeches today and he seemed to
spend the most time on economic issues and health care.

"I like Hillary's vision," Bill Clinton told an audience at a West Des
Moines school. "She says that our definition of moving toward a more
perfect union requires us to do three things. Number 1, to rebuild the
middle class dream in America and give more poor people a chance to
work their way into it. We don't want to be a country of shrinking
opportunity; we want to be a country of expanding opportunity for
everyone who will take advantage of it."

The focus on the economy comes two days after a voter in Grundy Center told the senator he was leaning toward John Edwards, citing his focus on the theme of "Two Americas."

The former president was on message when it came to the likeability issue and made sure to hit one of the campaign's main talking points this week. He mentioned the Hillary supporters, including old friends from grade school and from their years in Arkansas, who were out stumping for her.

"She's also a profoundly good person," he told the crowd gathered in the Gigglin' Goat restaurant in Boone, which the senator visited in October. "She wouldn't have all these people from Arkansas showing up here when she hasn't lived there for 15 years, if she weren't. She wouldn't have my daughter's best friend's parents working for her if they didn't have some personal experience that validated that

He also highlighted his wife's work on the Senate Armed Services Committee -- something she has been mentioning this week -- and her work with a small Pentagon committee to help redesign the military. He said trade had become a dirty word because the administration had not enforced trade deals with countries like China because America was so indebted to them. And he repeated the senator's claim a few weeks ago that she was the face of America during his presidency.

While Clinton and surrogates like Terry McAuliffe have been playing down the importance of winning in Iowa, at his second stop today, the former made it clear he thought they could seal the deal here.

"I hope you'll caucus for her," he said. "If you do, she'll win the nomination, and if she's nominated, everything I know about politics suggests to me that she'll be elected," And if she is elected, the former president said he hoped he wouldn't have to give up his work with his foundation "entirely."

Electability, campaign finance reform and Hillary's rivals

During the question and answer session at the first event, one man asked how Hillary could win enough electoral votes make it to the White House.

"Let's look at the states," Bill Clinton said. "First of all, the governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, has been here campaigning for her. He represented a very conservative rural district. He said in his judgment, she was clearly the most electable Democrat and he expected her to win Ohio if she were the nominee. If you look at Florida, Giuliani is the most, is running the best among the Republicans in Florida. She had a 9-point lead on him on the last poll. If you look at Arkansas, Gov. Huckabee's state, there's a little enthusiasm now for him because he got ahead in the Iowa polls, so he's a couple of points ahead of her. She has a double-digit lead and an absolute majority of the vote against every other Republican in Arkansas -- McCain, Thompson, Giuliani, you name it -- and so unless he's the nominee, she will sail to victory there." Clinton added, though, that she could probably beat him in the state in the end.

When asked what Hillary would do on campaign finance reform, he said she had voted for bills the Congress passed on the issue, but that the Supreme Court was determined to say that wealthier people have more of a right to free speech than everybody else -- "the rest of us" is the phrase he used. He said third parties, including those supporting his wife, were spending money on campaigns, because the Supreme Court wouldn't limit these third-party expenses, even though most Democrats and some Republicans wanted to do so.

"They [these groups] say if they don't do it and somebody else does, we'll all be at a relative disadvantage," he said. "They're absolutely right."

He pointed out that his wife shut down her PAC when she decided to run and invited the voter -- and anyone else -- to tell him what other ideas he had for tackling the issue, asking them to ask themselves: "If the money distribution stays the way it is, can we have more effective disclosure in advance? Where did the money come from; where is it going? There's still some obscurity in that that I don't like very much."

He mentioned her rivals only in passing, to say that he liked all of them -- which he often says -- and to add that he'd campaigned for two of them.

"Bill Richardson had two positions in my Cabinet," Bill Clinton said. "Sen. Biden and Sen. Dodd are in my opinion two of the best senators America has. I campaigned for Sen. Edwards when he ran for the Senate in '98 and for Sen. Obama when he ran for the Senate in 2004."