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Is he with her or the other way around?

June 20, 2007 |  1:15 am

Late last month a story leaked that Hillary Clinton's deputy campaign manager Mike Henry had written an internal memo advocating abandoning Iowa to concentrate time and resources elsewhere in the increasingly-frontloaded primary season. Iowa, Henry wrote, is "consistently our weakest state."

Instead, what has Clinton done? She's called in her husband, the ex-president, to campaign with her in Iowa for three days early next month, July 2-4. She'll be getting a real bargain as, according to recent financial disclosure forms, Bill Clinton received an average of $179,000 per speech in the last year.

But this is a very risky political strategy and may show the near desperation of the '08 Clinton campaign in the hawkeye state, where John Edwards has reassembled his '04 campaign team and shows good strength in the polls. A loss in Iowa and another in South Carolina, where Barack Obama is running ahead, could put a huge dent in the inevitability aura that Sen. Clinton has sought to perpetuate through the vaunted Clinton campaign machinery.

Bill Clinton remains hugely popular among many Americans. But except for some web videos, ads and fundraisers he has maintained a relatively low profile in his wife's campaign to allow the first serious female candidate for president to be seen standing on her own. He has a tendency to steal the spotlight, as he did at the funeral for Coretta Scott King, for instance. The electricity he generated speaking before that crowd was almost palpable, to be followed by his wife's more plodding methodical style.

That kind of contrast on the Iowa stump would not favor the New York senator.

A dutiful wife accompanying her candidate husband or even actively campaigning for him on her own is a standard on the American political trail today. But an eloquent experienced worldly husband having to help his struggling spouse's candidacy is a new spectacle with possibly unforeseen consequences. In 1999-2000 former president George H.W. Bush consciously did very little campaigning for his son. The specific reason: to let him appear to be his own man.

In the longer term for the general election, too close a campaign connection between Hillary and Bill could create the impression of them seeking merely a third Clinton term, arousing some strong old feelings toward the pair. While polls show a significant number of Americans would never vote for the senator under any conditions, the appearance of bringing back Bill Clinton could create a galvanizing and unnecessary new hurdle for his wife to overcome.

That's what's at stake in Iowa.

--Andrew Malcolm