ONAWA, Iowa – Making his first solo campaign stop in Iowa, Bill Clinton is using his star power to summon support for his wife’s presidential campaign.
No town is too small or off the beaten track for the former president in a state with a tightening race. Even Onawa, a sparsely-populated town of 3,600 in the far western corner of the state — a hustings customarily reserved for a lower-voltage surrogate — is big enough for Bill.
And locals appear happy to have him. Curiosity-seekers and voters alike lined up two hours early to catch a glimpse of the former president. They tucked into the high school auditorium or the adjacent gym that was transformed into a makeshift overflow room.
Clinton kept them applauding as he pinch-hit for his absent wife, who was headed to New Hampshire to woo early voters there.
"You have the power to make her the next president and I hope you will," Clinton told the crowd.
The former president's presence on the campaign trail made waves recently when he implied that attacks on Hillary Clinton by her rivals resemble the "Swift boating" of former presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
But Bill Clinton's address Thursday rarely veered away from showering praise on his wife, and he talked up her ability to handle issues like health care, global warming, diplomacy and the war in Iraq.
"We've got to win this election. There's no point in doing this if we're not going to win it," Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd in western Iowa. "She's tough, she's smart, and she's disciplined, and she definitely can win."
Bill Clinton enjoys a 66 percent approval rating in a Washington Post/ABC News Poll released last month. The survey of 1,114 adults also found only 27 percent of respondents thought a Hillary Clinton presidency would be an extension of her husband's two terms. Sixty-seven percent said it would be different.
"She's really established herself in her own right now as her own candidate, and for her to be successful that has to happen," said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. "So the reality is when people vote for president, they vote for the person running — not for the vice president, not for the spouse, not for anybody else."
But a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday showed only 34 percent of respondents believe Hillary Clinton is honest, while 43 percent view the New York senator negatively on the question of honesty.
Clinton's Democratic opponents said Bill Clinton's comments about the Swift boat ads, made during a speech Monday in Las Vegas, were a stretch. Democratic opponent Chris Dodd even called them "outrageous."
The former president made the comments after Clinton took heat for giving a confusing answer last week regarding her position on a New York state plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. She has since said the decision should be left up to the states, even though she supports what New York is trying to do.
An anonymous aide said the campaign found Bill Clinton's Swift boat comments counterproductive, a position that presents a rift that may have actually helped bury the original negative publicity over her waffling on the program.
Meanwhile, Democratic opponent Barack Obama continued his press in Iowa Thursday, holding a roundtable event in Ottumwa focusing on Social Security issues.
On a three-day swing through southeastern Iowa, Obama has highlighted plans to give tax cuts to the middle class, reduce health care costs and strengthen retirement security, part of his so-called "American Dream" agenda.
A Zogby poll of 502 likely voters taken Tuesday shows Obama closing the gap in Iowa with him earning 25 percent support, three points behind Clinton. The margin of error was 4.5 percent.
A new Rasmussen poll of 750 likely voters taken between Nov. 4 and 7 shows Hillary Clinton maintaining a strong lead nationally, even though she's slipping. It showed her with 41 percent support over Obama's 22 percent. A similar Rasmussen poll taken in mid-October showed her with 49 percent, and Obama with 22 percent.
On Wednesday, Obama, 46, said his closing in on Clinton is the result of the change he represents that Hillary Clinton can't deliver.
"Part of it's generational," Obama told FOX News Wednesday. "Senator Clinton and others have been fighting some of the same fights since the '60s."
Alluding to such comments Thursday, Bill Clinton told Iowa residents they're still in the game.
"Hillary and I, maybe we're just artifacts," he said. "Sometimes I hear some of these candidates talking, it's like they make me feel like a mummy. I'm only 61. I don't think I've got a leg in the grave yet."
Hoarse and nearly voiceless while making stops in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton said she's glad her husband can speak for her in Iowa.
"You know, I was over at the paper and my husband called. I told him I'd lost my voice, and he said, 'I lost my voice in New Hampshire. It's a good omen!' That is my husband, he always sees the bright side of everything," she said.
FOX News' Major Garrett and Bonney Kapp contributed to this report.