NEW YORK — Bubba's back — for a limited time only, he claimed Wednesday.
Former President Clinton said Thursday he's returning to the campaign trail in two critical early voting states on behalf of his wife, but he doesn't expect to do much more in the way of public campaigning for her this year.
"I thought we should do maybe one thing in Iowa this year and one thing in New Hampshire together so we can answer questions together about a lot of things we're both interested in," Bill Clinton said. "I don't expect to do a lot of this this year and I don't think it's helpful. I want people to get to know Hillary."
The former president took questions about his role in his wife's campaign at a New York press conference, where he announced his charitable foundation would launch a new $200 million anti-poverty initiative in Latin America.
The former president spoke fondly of Iowa and New Hampshire, saying both states had been very good to him in his 1992 and 1996 campaigns. Iowa reminds him of his home state of Arkansas, he said.
Long a behind-the-scenes player in his wife's campaign, the former president stepped into the spotlight this week with the announcement of his campaign trips and his humorous turn in a new Web video spoofing the last episode of the Sopranos. The video has been viewed over a million times in 48 hours on Clinton's campaign Web site and elsewhere in the Internet.
Bill Clinton said he'd enjoyed taking part in the Sopranos send-up, saying Web videos "give a sense of unvarnished, mass participation in politics which in a big country is hard to do."
Mindful of his charisma and tendency to hog the attention, his wife's campaign has played the Bill card carefully — keeping him in the shadows while giving Mrs. Clinton a chance to establish herself independently. They followed a similar pattern in her first Senate race in 2000.
Recently, the former president has cut back on his paid speeches and completed the manuscript for a book on citizen activism that will be published later this year. Aides say he'll continue to be very active with the charitable foundation that bears his name, and he plans a weeklong trip to Africa next month on the foundation's behalf.
But his top priority continues to be "making sure the candidate he believes will be the best president who also happens to be his wife is elected," said his spokesman, Jay Carson.
He has increased his fund raising for the campaign since the last quarter, headlining intimate dinners and larger gatherings across the country.
While the couple appeared together at several fund-raisers throughout the year, they've attended just one campaign event together — a civil rights commemoration in Selma, Ala., where Sen. Clinton was competing with rival Democrat Barack Obama for attention and support.
The Clinton's joint campaign trip top Iowa is viewed as especially crucial. Polls there show her in a tough fight with Obama and John Edwards, even as she leads in national polls and most other state surveys.
Bill Clinton did not compete in the Iowa caucuses when he first ran in 1992, but he won the state in the general election that year and again in 1996.
He credited New Hampshire with his political salvation in 1992, finishing a close second there after a bruising primary where he fought allegations of draft-dodging and philandering. He went on to win the state in both the 1992 and 1996 general elections.
Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, noted that Bill Clinton's support in the state came primarily from middle- and working-class Democrats and from men. Campaigning at his wife's side could boost her standing with those groups, Scala said.
"I don't think they're feeling desperate or that she is faltering, but my guess is that they are trying to buttress her support," Scala said. "She needs to appeal to middle-class voters and centrists, since progressive types might wonder, 'Is this going to be Bill Clinton's third term?'"
For many voters, joint campaign appearances for the Clintons will also satisfy the curiosity factor: How is this much-scrutinized couple handling a significant role reversal.
"People want to see Mrs. Obama, they want to see Mrs. Edwards. They want to see the team," said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who co-chairs the Clinton campaign. "He's a terrific surrogate, she's a great candidate, and we'll see an interplay between them which will be very helpful to her."