KEENE, N.H. – Bill Clinton is back on the presidential campaign trail – and so is his baggage.
For months, the former president has largely stayed out of the 2016 race, mentioned mostly in passing by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. On Monday, he heads out for his first solo campaign events, with stops planned in New Hampshire – a key primary state that gave much-needed momentum to his struggling 1992 presidential bid.
He’ll do so after days of attacks over his impeachment and decades-old sex scandals from Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
So far, Bill Clinton has remained mum about Trump’s slams – following the lead of his wife’s campaign, which believes their candidate comes across as more presidential by rising above what they see as the Republican’s crass political tactics.
But the attacks seem to have struck a nerve.
At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Sunday, Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien heckled Clinton about her husband’s sexual history, accusing her of enabling him to mistreat women.
WATCH: Clinton tells heckler ‘You are very rude’
“You are very rude and I’m not going to ever call on you,” Clinton snapped at O’Brien, after repeated shouted interruptions by the New Hampshire state senator.
The former president, too, has been known to become heated when he feels his wife is under attack, as he did during the 2008 primary with remarks about then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama that angered black voters in South Carolina.
“I love my husband and, you know, he does get upset when I am attacked,” said Clinton, in an interview with NBC’s Meet The Press last year. “I totally get that.”
Just days after Clinton called her husband her “secret weapon” at a campaign event last month, Trump began aiming his fire at Bill Clinton, accusing the former president of mistreating women and his wife of enabling the abuse.
“If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she is wrong,” Trump tweeted last week.
His accusations reverberated across the campaign trail, giving fodder to conservatives who want to use the issue in the 2016 campaign.
“You see what’s happened recently and it hasn’t been a very pretty picture for her or for Bill,” said Trump, in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation. “Because I’m the only one who’s willing to talk about his problems.”
Clinton supporters believe the attacks will backfire, particularly in the general election. Hillary Clinton had some of her highest approval ratings in the wake of disclosures about her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The former president’s public events in New Hampshire come as he moves into a more public role in his wife’s effort. After months of having her husband focus on private fundraisers, Clinton said in a December debate that she would turn to Bill Clinton for advice should she win the White House, particularly on economic issues.
Their schedules on Monday showed the degree to which the ubiquitous political couple will be able to blanket the early primary states in the next two months as Democrats also hold contests in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.
While the former president was drumming up support for his wife in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton was starting a two-day “river-to-river” tour of Iowa, holding town hall meetings and organizing events across the state.
Bill Clinton’s longstanding ability to raise money will also be an asset in the weeks ahead, with fundraisers on the calendar in New York, Seattle, Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., Cleveland and Fairfield, Conn. The finance events will allow Hillary Clinton to spend more time on the ground in Iowa and also in New Hampshire, where polls have shown her trailing Sanders, who represents neighbouring Vermont.
The couple’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, was also getting into the act, headlining fundraisers of her own in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago next week.
Thomas reported from Davenport, Iowa.
© 2016 The Canadian Press