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Hillary Clinton as LBJ?

Thumbs up on the trail for Hillary, from Bill. (Reuters).

AMES, Iowa -- With his wife on a detour through California, former president Bill Clinton launched a string of college campus appearances here on Monday declaring that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has "spent a lifetime as a change agent." He compared her favorably to former President Lyndon Johnson, saying that even the ambitious civil rights champion wasn't as broad-minded as the New York senator in trying to implement universal health care.

"He knew it was too hard," Clinton said. "Well, she knew it was hard, too, and I did, but we knew we had to do it."

With the race in a dead heat here, both Clintons have focused on her health care proposal and her attempt in 1993 to overhaul the system. The former president did not pursue the "character question" against Sen. Barack Obama as his wife had begun to do a week earlier. But he did challenge Obama's ability to bring about change. "It's one thing to have good intentions; it's another thing altogether to change the reality of people's lives," Clinton said. "It's important, communication is. But it's also important to know how to get from a good intention to a specific result."

The Clinton campaign has criticized Sen. Barack Obama for encouraging college students to vote at school even if their parents live elsewhere. Clinton did not make a similar appeal (though it might have been irrelevant; the audience was largely filled with adults). He also had appearances scheduled on campuses in Grinnell and Iowa City today.

Both Clinton and Obama are on the West Coast, their schedules locked in by a previous commitment to attend a Democratic debate that was eventually cancelled due to the writers' strike. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is also in California.

--Anne E. Kornblut

By Washington Post editors  |  December 10, 2007; 6:32 PM ET
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