PITTSBURGH -- Campaigning for wife Hillary Clinton on Monday, the eve of of her victory in this week's crucial Pennsylvania primary, former president Bill Clinton left little doubt about his own positive read of her controversial -- and perhaps telling -- ABC debate last week with rival Barack Obama.
This was an
affair that numerous critics blasted as having consisted of little more than an
orgy of "gotcha" questions - directed by co-hosts George Stephanopoulos
and Charlie Gibson to Obama, for the most part.
The former president, however, speaking on Monday, the last day of active campaigning, to a large crowd gathered in Pittsburgh's Market Square downtown boasted about "that one great debate where Hillary showed us she was ready to be president of the United States."
Warming up the audience for the candidate herself, whose campaign plane had been delayed, prospective First Husband Clinton recalled daughter Chelsea's recent affirmative answer to a questioner who asked whether she thought her mother would make a better president than her father had.
"I took a world of kidding," Clinton said. "At first, I tried to make light of it, saying, 'Did you ever see a family where the women didn't stick together....Then I gave a serious answer. I agreed with my daughter. I think she is the best candidate I have ever come across." Had she not been yoked in service to his own political career for so long, "she'd have been here earlier," the former president insisted.
Later, after candidate Clinton herself had arrived and addressed the crowd, the two of them worked opposite sections of the semi-circular rope line.
The former president headed our way. Asked about his wife's prospects in what was for her a must-win primary, he said, "I think she's in pretty good shape out there. They like her here. They know she's their girl." But he declined to make predictions about numbers.
"I don't know," he said. "She's been out-spent 3-1. And she, you know, she won in--they were dancing on her grave in Texas. She won anyway. And they never thought, after they out-spent her 2-1 in Ohio, she could still win by 10 points. So we'll see. She's got a lot of good supporters here. I'll just see. I don't know what's going to happen. It depends on a lot of things. I depends on how the undecided break. I literally don't know....That's not my job. My job is to get her as many votes as I can."
All in all, Clinton's estimates, however cautiously expressed, turned out to be on point.
I asked Clinton about the weekend endorsement of his wife for this week's primary by Richard Mellon Scaife, the conservative owner and publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the principal architect and paymaster (to the tune of several million dollars) of what Hillary Clinton once famously called a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to embarrass and bring down her husband.
"I'm surprised," the former president answered, "but I'm, not-- you know, he, uh, I take him at their word. I think they were impressed that she had the guts to go see 'em. And they were - you know, I generally find this, that people who demonize you, once they get to knows you, they're surprised you're different than they imagined, and they like her. She made a lot of sense, and I take them at their word."
He declined to speculate on whether Hillary could expect an endorsement in the general election against Republican John McCain.
The Clintons' visit was followed by one later Monday by Obama, who drew, as usual, a massive rock concert-like crowd at an evening rally at the University of Pittsburgh, where the candidate was accompanied by his wife Michelle, by Pennsylvania's senator Bob Casey, who has endorsed Obama, and by Theresa Heinz, the widow of former Pennsylvania senator John Heinz who is currently married to Massachusetts senator, former presidential candidate, and Obama supporter John Kerry.
Citing an article in that day's Washington Post which depicted McCain as irascible and recounted several incidents of feuds with Senate colleagues, Stephanopoulos forced the Arizona senator on the defensive about his temperament.
For what it's worth, one of McCain's Republican colleagues
in the Senate, Tennessee's own Lamar Alexander, was asked, on the
occasion of his recent visit to the Flyer, if he had ever been on the
receiving end of one of McCain's outbursts.
"Yes, I have," the senator nodded gravely, going on to say,
"There are very few of us who haven't."