PHILADELPHIA—During a short press conference at an event at Philadelphia’s City Hall where Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, a reporter asked if the governor approved of the aggressive campaigning Bill Clinton has been doing in the last few weeks against Barack Obama.
“Let me say this,” Rendell began. “You know that I have in my political career eschewed negative campaigning. But this is a rough and tumble, as Senator Clinton said, this is a tough election and the stakes are high. And everybody talks about not only what they want to do but talks about the weaknesses of what they think the other candidates” are.
“You have to do that,” he said, before blaming the sniping between Clinton and Obama on “far too many debates.”
That seemed to me to be a defense of the former president’s negative campaigning, so I asked Clinton whether she felt her husband had engaged in negative campaigning and whether it was necessary.
“Well, what I heard the governor say,” she said, “was about the debates. And I think he very clearly said the debates and the campaign among the candidates is contested. And it’s vigorous, which happens towards the end of a hard-fought election. I’ve said many times that I am grateful for the support my husband has given me. Each of us who remains in this race have very passionate and vigorous spouses who have been out there campaigning for us.
She added of President Clinton, “He feels very, very strongly about what we need in the next president and that’s what he’s out talking about.”
After the event I bumped into Rendell in the hall and asked him if he thought Bill Clinton had engaged in negative campaigning.
“I didn’t say Bill Clinton, I didn’t respond to the question directly,” he said. “I said tough campaigning is necessary.”
I asked if the former president was engaging in negative campaigning.
“I think there are some elements of all campaigning that are negative. When you compare and say Hillary Clinton has more experience than Barack Obama, is that negative?”
But had Bill Clinton been doing more the just comparing the record, I asked.
“It’s campaigning,” he said. “I don’t like it, and I don’t like it on either side. I don’t like that Michelle Obama said that we are lucky that someone as smart as barrack Obama would deign to run for office. What does that make me, an idiot?”