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Bill Clinton calls his wife a "change maker" in first campaign stop

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a campaign rally for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in Nashua, New Hampshire January 4, 2016.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Last Updated Jan 4, 2016 1:05 PM EST

Bill Clinton's first speech on the campaign trail to promote his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was a prime example of why the former president can be such an asset when he stays on message.

The roughly 30-minute address to a group of grassroots Clinton supporters in Nashua, New Hampshire was a brief recitation of issues that will resonate with New Hampshire voters - the heroin epidemic, reducing money in politics, and paid family leave -- followed by an effusive recitation of Hillary Clinton's career after law school. His wife, Bill Clinton said, was a "change-maker" long before she ever held elected office.

"I thought she was the most amazing person," Bill Clinton said, recalling meeting his wife during law school where she was one of just a handful of female students. "She could have written her ticket to go anywhere she wanted...all she was really interested in was providing legal services to poor people."

He talked about her work at the Children's Defense Fund, a trip she took to South Carolina to study the issue of African American children being held in adult prisons, and efforts to start a legal aid clinic in Arkansas over the objections of a judge who didn't like "lady lawyers."

"Everything she touched she made better," Bill Clinton said. Recalling her work to launch a program that improved home instruction for preschool-aged children, he said, "She made one phone call and followed through and she hadn't been elected to anything. She was just a change maker."

In another anecdote, he recalled how as first lady, Hillary Clinton searched for an issue to work with then-Republican Whip Tom DeLay, whom he called the "Ted Cruz of the pre-Tea Party era." They ultimately wrote a bill together to boost adoption rates of foster children. The signing ceremony was the only time DeLay set foot in the White House during Bill Clinton's tenure, he recalled.

"Almost everybody goes into the White House with the best of intentions. Whether they succeed or not depends upon whether their instincts, their experience, their knowledge, and their psychological makeup fits the time," Bill Clinton concluded, before launching into a brief history lesson. " I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified by knowledge experience and temperament to do what needs to be done now to restore prosperity, to deal with these human issues, to make us as safe as possible."

One person who did not merit a mention during Bill Clinton's first stop in New Hampshire was Donald Trump, the Republican front runner who has unleashed an unrelenting stream of criticism in the past several days about the former president's history with women.

In a brief interview after his speech, ABC News asked Clinton whether the criticism was fair game.

"The Republicans have to decide who they want to nominate," he responded. "I think there's always attempts to take the election away from the people."

But in his speech, he did allude to the joys of not being fully immersed in the ins and outs of the 2016 race.

"Especially when I watch the other guys debating...I don't fit anymore," Clinton said. "First of all I'm a happy grandfather not mad at anybody, and secondly, I thought an election was supposed to be a job interview. And believe me it's important."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.