NEW YORK — After largely staying in the background this summer as Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off her second campaign for president, former President Bill Clinton is ready to take on a more active and public role in his wife’s second bid for the White House.
Bill Clinton’s move to deepen the political involvement in his wife’s 2016 effort comes as she continues to confront the insurgent campaign of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and the chance that Vice President Joe Biden could make a late entry into the race. Friends and former aides say the former President is eager to become a more vocal advocate for her candidacy.
“He’s going to be very active,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidant. “He always intended to come out and support his wife. He’s now at the point that he’s ready to get out there.”
Shortly after a Sept. 29 close of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the crown jewel of the sprawling charitable network he established after leaving the White House, Bill Clinton is scheduled to embark upon a series of fundraisers and party events across the country.
The events will follow a weekend in which he aired a forceful defense of his wife, arguing that she faces the same kind of partisan attacks over her use of a private email account and server while serving as Secretary of State that plagued his 1992 campaign and his administration.
“This is just something that has been a regular feature of all of our Presidential campaigns, except in 2008 for unique reasons,” Bill Clinton said in an interview with CNN. “We’re seeing history repeat itself. And I actually am amazed that she’s borne up under it as well as she has.”
Though he logged thousands of miles to campaign for Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections, Bill Clinton has yet to be a visible part of his wife’s campaign.
Though longtime Clinton backers consider the former president one of her strongest advocates, campaign aides worried his presence early on during the campaign could undermine their efforts to reintroduce Hillary Clinton to voters.
“People love President Clinton up here. They love Hillary Clinton,” said Mike Vlacich, Clinton’s New Hampshire State Director. “There’s going to be good opportunities for him to support her, but the focus has been on Hillary and the people she’s fighting for.”
But as Clinton’s position as the front-runner for the nomination continues to erode in preference polling, which still shows her ahead nationally but by not nearly as much as she was at the start of the year, that calculation seems to be shifting.
Earlier this month, Bill Clinton filled in for his wife at fundraisers in Chicago after a scheduling conflict led her to cancel.
Later this week, he plans to raise money at events in Atlanta and suburban Kansas City before headlining an annual dinner for the West Virginia Democratic Party. He’ll also woo donors in suburban Detroit later in October.
While no large campaign rallies featuring Clinton are in the works, fundraisers across the country are working with his team to firm up dates for other events.
Clinton has also indicated that he would be open to raising money for the Democratic Super PAC supporting his wife’s campaign, some donors said. Clinton’s personal aides coordinate his appearances with his wife’s team, according to campaign aides.
“He’s the next best person to her to do events and raise primary money,” said Steve Elemendorf, a veteran Democratic strategist who is raising money for Clinton. “I don’t think there’s any mystery about that.”
With the highest favorability rating of any living president, Clinton is considered one of his party’s most effective messengers. But as he showed in 2008, with remarks about then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama that angered black voters in South Carolina, he can also be an undisciplined campaigner.
“I love my husband, and you know, he does get upset when I am attacked,” Hillary Clinton said in an interview with NBC’s Meet The Press. “I totally get that.”
At the recent events in Chicago, Bill Clinton detailed his wife’s accomplishments from her time as a young legal advocate for children.
He warned the crowd that winning the White House is always a grueling process, “no matter who you are” and that electing a Democrat for a third term would be particularly difficult.
Before the event, he toured a technology incubator in Chicago, where he was swarmed by selfie-snapping engineers and entrepreneurs.
“He’s excited to get out there and do it and make sure he’s letting people know what the best features of Hillary are,” said Clinton fundraiser J.B. Pritzker, who escorted the former President to the events. “He’s deep into it.”
Friends and former aides have said Clinton told them that he wanted to focus on his foundation’s work at least until this fall, in part to ensure that the charity he spent more than a decade building remains robust should his wife win the White House and he’s forced to scale back his role.
A number of top dignitaries, including Obama, opted to skip the meeting this week, amid increased scrutiny of the foundation’s internal workings and the heated politics of Clinton’s presidential bid.
But at the opening event, surrounded by Nobel Prize winners, celebrities and corporate sponsors, Clinton vowed the work of his foundation would continue — with or without its namesake.
“Don’t ever confuse the headline from the trendlines or today’s problems for the possibilities of tomorrow’s solutions,” he said. “Ten years from now somebody will be here. I’d like it if I could outlive every man in my family and be one of them, but we’ll see.”
By Lisa Lerer. AP writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, contributed