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Bill Clinton kicks off tour for wife's presidential campaign

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Former President Bill Clinton waves to a cheering crowd as he arrives during a campaign stop for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Former President Bill Clinton waves to a cheering crowd as he arrives during a campaign stop for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Former President Bill Clinton speaks during a campaign stop for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Former President Bill Clinton speaks during a campaign stop for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

NASHUA, N.H. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton made his debut solo appearance in New Hampshire Monday on behalf of his wife, Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign — a lot grayer, a bit trimmer and far more subdued than nearly a quarter century ago when he rescued his flagging 1992 campaign in this key early voting state.

While Bill Clinton was keen to keep the focus on Hillary Clinton's key campaign platforms, the passing time hasn't shielded him from the ghosts that haunted his own presidency — Republican front-runner Donald Trump going on the offensive in recent days with attacks over his impeachment and decades-old sex scandal.

As Bill Clinton mingled with a lunchtime crowd at a popular Manchester restaurant, news station above his head ran captioned video questioning whether he could avoid Trump's flagrant attacks — and that's just what he did, instead drawing focus to the race at hand.

"They have to choose a nominee and we have a primary to win," he said when asked about Trump and the broader Republican field. "One of my many rules in politics is don't look past the next election."

In a wide-ranging address that took voters through Hillary Clinton's work as a young lawyer in Arkansas, ways to combat heroin addiction, the political achievements of President Barack Obama and the failings of America's fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce, Bill Clinton argued that the Democratic front-runner offers the best plan to restore "broadly shared prosperity."

The event marked the former president's debut solo appearance for his wife's campaign, part of a broader strategy to boost the Democratic front-runner's campaign in the run-up to early voting next month.

"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," he told several hundred New Hampshire voters gathered in a college auditorium.

Trump was on the offensive ahead of Bill Clinton's campaign debut, raising concern over the formerpresident's scandals and the role his wife played.

"I don't really care about Monica Lewinsky other than I think that Hillary was an enabler and a lot of things happened that were obviously very seedy," Trump said in an interview with CNN Monday. "I mean, he was impeached, for heaven's sake. He was impeached over this stuff."

So far, Bill Clinton has remained silence about Trump's slams - following the lead of his wife's campaign, which believes their candidate comes across as more presidential by rising above what they see as the Republican's crass political tactics.

He spoke calmly and quietly in New Hampshire on Monday, methodically describing the issues he sees as motivating voters in the next election. Clinton warned voters that the next president could appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices and reverse the health care law and environmental programs of the Obama administration.

Hillary Clinton, her husband said, offers the best path to economic prosperity, dealing with social problems like heroin addiction and foreign policy that doesn't undermine the American character.

"I think it is the plan that offers the best chance to have the most rapid movement to broadly shared propserity," he said.

Still, some of Trump's attacks seem to have struck a nerve.

At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Sunday, Katherine Prudhomme O'Brien heckled Clintonabout her husband's sexual history, accusing her of enabling him to mistreat women.

"You are very rude and I'm not going to ever call on you," Clinton snapped at O'Brien, after repeated shouted interruptions by the New Hampshire state representative.

Their schedules on Monday showed the degree to which the ubiquitous political couple will be able to blanket the early primary states in the next two months as Democrats hold contests in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.

While the former president was drumming up support for his wife in New Hampshire, Hillary Clintonwas starting a two-day "river-to-river" tour of Iowa, holding town hall meetings and organizing events across the state.

Bill Clinton's longstanding ability to raise money will also be an asset in the weeks ahead, with fundraisers on the calendar in New York, Seattle, Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., Cleveland and Fairfield, Conn. The finance events will allow Hillary Clinton to spend more time on the ground in Iowa and also in New Hampshire, where polls have shown her trailing Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont.

The couple's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, was also getting into the act, headlining fundraisers of her own in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago next week.

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Ken Thomas reported from Davenport, Iowa.

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Follow Lisa Lerer and Ken Thomas on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/llerer and http://twitter.com/KenThomasDC

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