Clinton describes wife as Katrina crusader

Published 11:46 pm Friday, February 8, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a state where the suffering of Hurricane Katrina is still fresh, former President Bill Clinton on Friday characterized his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as a tireless champion for storm-battered Louisiana.

‘‘No member of Congress outside the state of Louisiana has done more to try to make sure New Orleans and this whole state got the help they needed as quickly as possible after Katrina,’’ Clinton said during a campaign stop at Dillard University, a historically black private college.

Sen. Clinton’s opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, was in New Orleans on Thursday, drawing an enthusiastic crowd of about 4,000 at Tulane University. The former president’s Friday appearance brought in about 300 people at a largely subdued event.

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Although he never spoke of Obama by name, Clinton repeatedly contrasted the Illinois senator’s campaign to that of his wife, and said experience, such as his wife has accumulated over years of public service, is paramount from Day 1 in the Oval Office.

‘‘We’re having this huge turnout, record turnouts. There are people aching to change this country. It is beautiful and it is exhilarating. But once you get to be president, everything happens at once and you can get isolated,’’ he said. ‘‘You need to have someone with an eye on the future and feet on the ground.’’

A statement attributed to the Clinton campaign Thursday had been critical of Obama for a ‘‘politically expedient’’ 2006 vote against legislation giving Louisiana a bigger share of outer continental shelf energy drilling revenue. Obama’s campaign called it a ‘‘baseless political attack,’’ saying the Illinois senator ultimately voted in favor of the measure that sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the state.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign said the statement, received by The Associated Press by email, did not have the campaign’s authorization. ‘‘We have many passionate supporters who work hard in their own way to help Sen. Clinton,’’ said campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee.

Bill Clinton had a hectic all-day campaign schedule, with stops planned in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Monroe.

Hillary Clinton has skipped Louisiana and focused on other states.

Obama, too, made Katrina and the recovery from the storm the basis for his pitch to New Orleans voters. the storm struck Aug. 29, 2005, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans.

Both campaigns highlighted how much work still must be done to fix New Orleans and overcome Louisiana’s deep-rooted problems, such as high rates of poverty and bad schools.

Clinton took a shot at President Bush, too, and said his wife would not repeat the mistakes Bush made after Katrina. The Republican National Committee hit back, saying Hillary Clinton’s plan for repairing New Orleans would involve large tax increases and expanding the government.

The Republican race, which largely died down after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out this week, has ignored Louisiana.

Only Republicans and Democrats can vote in the state presidential primary, leaving 22 percent of voters who aren’t affiliated with either party able to vote only if they have local elections in their areas.

Winners of Louisiana’s primary don’t get all the delegates in either party.

Louisiana Democrats award most of their 67 delegates based on the proportion of the primary vote in the state. State Republicans, however, only commit some of the party’s 47 delegates if a GOP candidate gets 50 percent or more of the primary vote. Otherwise, all delegates remain uncommitted.