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Clinton on Clinton

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- No relationship in modern politics is more complex or more scrutinized than the marriage of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former president Bill Clinton. It has been studied ad nauseam -- and there's no way to quickly summarize all the theories and observations here.

But what became abundantly clear during a day of campaigning with Sen. Clinton yesterday is that she will make her husband -- and his administration's accomplishments -- a central part of her 2008 bid.

Clinton repeatedly referenced her husband in her opening remarks and her answers to questions posed to her Saturday during town hall meetings in Berlin and Concord.

Referencing the 1992 New Hampshire primary, which saw Bill Clinton finish second to Paul Tsongas and later inspired his nickname as "the comeback kid" -- Hillary Clinton said she would do only one thing different in her campaign in the Granite State -- fewer stops at Dunkin' Donuts. "Bill gained 20 pounds in the New Hampshire primary," she said to laughter from the crowd.

One woman in Berlin recounted that she had waited in line for 12 hours to get Bill Clinton to sign his autobiography. "I've waited for him a lot myself," said Hillary Clinton, again drawing applause and laughter.

But it wasn't simply as a comic foil that Clinton brought up her husband. Again and again she touched on the Clinton administration's record on balancing the budget as an example of where the country could go under the right leadership.

The strategy of linking her husband's accomplishments to her potential in the White House is sound. Former president Clinton's approval ratings have reached stratospheric levels since he left office in 2001, and most Americans view his eight years as president as positive ones for the country. By drawing a rhetorical connection between the leadership of her husband and herself, Hillary Clinton is seeking to remind voters of all that they liked about their government in the 1990s.

The risk she runs is that voters will focus more on the foibles of the Clinton administration -- most notably the Monica Lewinsky ordeal -- rather than the policy accomplishments of her husband. It was that fear that led Al Gore to shun Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in 2000, a strategy that drew heavy criticism in Democratic circles in the post-election analysis.

Hillary Clinton has chosen a different path. Will it lead her to the nomination? The Fix wants to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 11, 2007; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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