Bill Clinton: McCain ‘A Great Man’; Praises Wife’s, Not Obama’s Economic Plan

By Jennifer Parker

Sep 18, 2008 6:33pm

ABC News’ Jennifer Parker reports: Former President Bill Clinton has largely kept himself out of the public eye since his wife lost the Democratic primary to Barack Obama.

However in a rare television interview tonight, the former president called Republican presidential candidate John McCain "a great man" and praised GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as an "instinctively effective candidate."

On a day when Obama sought to convince voters that he’s best able to handle the economic crisis, the former president said it was his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who gave today "the most detailed position" on what to do about the financial crisis.

In an interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Clinton, who has tried to put to rest rumors of tensions between himself and Obama said, "I’ve never concealed my admiration and affection for Sen. McCain. I think he’s a great man.

"But, I think, on the issues that matter to our future, the Obama-Biden team is, is more right," Clinton said of the Democratic ticket. "And I believe they’re gonna win. But, I think that it will be competitive until the end."

A ringing endorsement it wasn’t.

The former president said Obama "has offered some very specific and sensible economic reforms and healthcare reforms."

Clinton, who said he agreed with the US Federal Reserve decision to bailout insurance giant AIG, said his wife who today gave, "the most detailed position I’ve seen on what she felt we ought to do on the finance crisis."

The two-term former Democratic president invited Obama to lunch in his New York office last week and has agreed to campaign for him in the coming weeks.

But if tonight’s interview is any indication, Bill Clinton will not be lavishing praise on his wife’s former primary rival.

Clinton predicted the Democrats will win back the White House in November because voters are ready for a change.

"I think what, what typically happens in these elections if you look throughout American history when the country’s in a fix and you know where we’re going is not sustainable, then there is typically a breakthrough," he said.

"I think that the, the people said, ‘Well, they [Republicans] had the Congress and the White House for six of the last eight years. We’re in trouble. We liked Senator McCain. We recognize he’s a little bit of a different kind of Republican. But, we’re gonna make a change.’ And I think that’s where they’ll be and I think that you’ll see a victory for Obama and Biden," Clinton said.

However, Clinton, said there could still be  "some unforeseen development," perhaps in the debates, he said, that could threaten a Democratic win.

"Barring some unforeseen development like in– something happens in the debates we don’t know about. I– I– I– it may not be apparent in the polls until last week or two of the election. But, I believe that it will be apparent on election day. I think that– I think Senator Obama will win this election," Clinton said. 

Asked if he was surprised by the bounce McCain received in the polls after choosing Palin as his vice presidential candidate, Clinton said he wasn’t, and lavished praise on the Alaska governor.

"No, she’s a– she’s an instinctively effective candidate," he said, "And with a compelling story. I think it was exciting to some, that, that she was a woman. It was exciting that she was from Alaska. It was exciting that she’s sort of like the person she is. And she grew up in a,  came up in a political culture and a religious culture that is probably well to the right of the American center. But, she didn’t basically define herself in those terms," Clinton said.

"She handled herself very well," he said, "I get why she’s done so well. She, she’s, it’s a mistake to underestimate her. She’s got good intuitive skills. They’re significant."

Asked whether his wife intends to run in 2012 if McCain wins, Clinton did not rule it out.

"I don’t know," he said, "You know the one thing we’ve learned at, at our age is that, you know, I hope we’re both active till we’re 90 and healthy. But, I think that her focus will now be on what she can do in her present positions to try to help her deal with all these things that threw her into the presidential race in the first place," he said.

Clinton added, "I think that– that what she will do is to continue to try to be a national voice as a result of her campaign on economic and healthcare and energy issues that got her into this presidential race in the first place."

The former president suggested he and his wife have put aside "personal politics" and are working hard to elect Obama.

"She’s workin’," he said of the New York senator. "You see her. She’s out there workin’ hard for Senator Obama. She, like me, believe he’s gonna win. And no matter who wins, we’ve got to put our, our own personal politics aside for the next couple of years and get after these problems," he said.

"We’ve got, we, we’ve got to shelf the politics for a while and work on the substance. And if we’ll do that, the politics will take care of itself," the former president said.

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