Bill Clinton tries to assure the faithful at New Brunswick fundraiser


Bad weather kept Hillary Clinton from attending her own New Jersey fundraiser last night, but the Democrats who helped raise nearly $1 million for his presidential campaign weren’t disappointed. They got Bill Clinton instead, and it’s the former President’s appeal that helped draw them to Team Hillary in the first place.

But the Clinton supporters who attended the event seem keenly aware of Barack Obama’s surge in Iowa and New Hampshire, and many – including the former President – are in full spin mode as they seek to hold on to Hillary Clinton’s front runner status.

"Of all of the states, Iowa is the most challenging one for her to start, because Senator Edwards has worked hard there for seven years, and did very well there four years ago," Clinton explained of a state where Obama now has an eight point lead. "He’s been to all the counties once, and he’s going around on a second tour."

Clinton tried to reassure the people who are helping to finance his wife’s campaign – some of whom paid up to $2,300 for a seat, partly to hear crooner Tony Bennett – that they should look at a Bill Clinton highlighted a national poll by the Washington Post and ABC News that appeared yesterday, which shows his wife at 53% followed by Obama at 23%.

"She’s in a lull right now," N.J. Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Cryan had said of his candidate last week, in what amounted to an airbrushing of off-the-record remarks made by others expressing not a sense of campaign free-fall exactly but concern.

Clinton has a sizeable lead in New Jersey, according to today’s Quinnipiac University poll, but more than a few Democrats are concerned that New Jersey’s February 5 presidential primary could suddenly have relevance if Obama surges here.

The New Jersey Clinton campaign has focused almost entirely on fundraising, and has expended little effort on a ground game. Obama’s campaign here has been more aggressive at building a statewide operation, and less dependent on big name endorsements.

Critics complain that some internal ego battles have caused the campaign to suffer, and that the people running the operation have no public face. The Clinton campaign does not even permit Karen Kominsky, the state campaign director, to speak to the media about the state operations.

Clinton once ran and won on the change message and now Obama runs under the same one-word slogan, which is in fact more suited to his wife, the former president argued.

"This is an important election," said Clinton. "And my case for Hillary is quite simple. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been the most effective agent of change for other people’s lives, than anybody I’ve ever known."

The symbols of state power — Sen. Robert Menendez, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, Cryan – but not Gov. Jon Corzine — and others soon reveled in what was apparently Clinton’s and by extension the room’s mood set to music, as the 81-year old Tony Bennett took the stage with his band and sang, "Maybe this time, maybe this time, I’ll win.”

Bill Clinton tries to assure the faithful at New Brunswick fundraiser