PORTSMOUTH — The last eight months have just been a warmup, if the Clinton fall kickoff and Labor Day rally held in downtown Portsmouth Sunday night was any indication. The real race for the Democratic and Republican nominations for president starts now.
In honor and recognition of the fact that New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is just over four months away, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton brought what is perhaps her biggest gun with her — her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The reception for the former president from the estimated 4,500 to 5,000 people who jammed Pleasant Street, from State almost to Congress, rivaled the one given to the candidate, and the man dubbed "The Comeback Kid" by state media in 1992 did not disappoint.
"I want to say a personal thank-you to this city," Bill Clinton told a cheering crowd. "Ten days before the 1992 primary, (the polls indicated) I was dropping like a stone. A picture appeared in the local newspaper of me crossing a cold, snowy street in this city, with my jaw and my fist clenched."
After promising to stick with New Hampshire "until the last dog died," the former Arkansas governor went on to come in second in the state's primary and to eventually win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Clinton told the crowd Sunday that a local artist painted a picture of that photo; he kept it in his private office during his term in office, and it now hangs in his office in Harlem in New York City.
"I see Portsmouth every day now," he said.
It's a different city from when Bill Clinton first ran for office. Now a booming small city, in 1992, it was awash in vacant storefronts and a struggling economy.
Bill and Hillary Clinton said they recognized that it is also a different world.
"The country has real problems — some the same (as in 1992), some much more profound," the former president said. "Hillary is the best qualified, most experienced and best suited for this time than any of the other candidates."
Introduced by Portsmouth Mayor and Democratic U.S. senatorial candidate Steve Marchand, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and New Hampshire House Speaker Terie Norelli, Bill and Hillary Clinton spoke to the crowd for nearly 45 minutes, during which they both took some shots at those who claim it is not yet time for a woman to be president of the United States.
"This 'electability' thing is a canard; it doesn't amount to a hill of beans," the former president said. "Just vote for the person you think would make the best president."
Hillary Clinton invited those who believe it is not yet time for a woman to hold the highest elected office to come out on the campaign trail with her "and see the young women and the mothers holding up their daughters, telling them they can be anything they want to be," she said.
"This nation can shatter the highest glass ceiling. It's done it before," the candidate said. "And electing a woman is just the beginning — a signal that change is real in the United States."
Hillary Clinton also addressed concerns that have been raised about whether someone who has been in Washington for so many years can be an effective agent of change.
"With me, you don't have to choose between change and experience," she said. "The way you bring change is by working the system as it is outlined in our Constitution.
"It's not just about dreaming up change," she said. "It's about getting it into law."
Clinton said if a president wants to have change, she has to know "when to stand her ground and when to find common ground." "Even a president needs 60 votes in the Senate," she said. "I believe in reaching out."