The Complicated Legacy of Bill Clinton

"I would anticipate that that would have significant turnout consequences for Democrats. I love Hillary to death, and I think she'd be a great president, but that would be the practical effect if she's the nominee," he added. "It's kind of the way Democrats feel about Rush Limbaugh -- it's a visceral dislike Republicans have for Hillary and Bill Clinton. It is what it is."

On the campaign trail, Clinton has not been shy about reminding voters of her time in the White House. Her core argument -- that she has the experience to assume the presidency without a learning curve -- is based almost entirely on her work alongside her husband from 1993 through 2001.

And Bill Clinton has campaigned alongside his wife in New Hampshire and Iowa, arguing for a return to the type of policies adopted during his administration.

"Yesterday's news was pretty good," the former president said last month in Iowa. "We've almost got to restart the 21st Century now, and . . . you should want someone in the White House who has very new ideas, but who keeps score the old-fashioned way."

Clinton aides point out that the former president remains enormously popular with the Democratic base. A February ABC News/Washington Post found that 80 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of all voters had a positive impression of President Clinton; those numbers were slightly better than his wife's, who was viewed favorably by 74 percent of Democrats polled, and by 49 percent of the public at large.

But by the end of his presidency, Clinton was viewed as such a political liability that his vice president, Al Gore, minimized his exposure on the campaign trail. And his wife's time on the trail has revealed some Democrats' complicated feelings toward the Clintons.

Two weeks ago, at a forum sponsored by the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, singer Melissa Etheridge expressed disappointment in the lack of progress on gay-rights issues during the Clinton administration.

"It was a very hopeful time for the gay community," Etheridge said. "And in the years that followed, our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside -- all those great promises that were made to us were broken."

The question seemed to surprise Clinton, who defended her husband's record on gay rights and said she would fight for more progress.

"We certainly didn't get as much done as I would have liked, but I believe that there was a lot of honest effort going on," she said. "I think I am a leader now."

Edwards and other Democrats know that Clinton's White House years -- while, on balance, an advantage for her -- present certain liabilities, said Dennis Goldford, a politics professor at Drake University in Iowa.

"All was not sweetness and light in the Clinton years," Goldford said. "All of that's out there, and despite the warm afterglow, there's a lot of contentious stuff about the Clinton years that's easy to forget. But it's going to come back."

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