NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former President Clinton said Monday his wife can handle the criticism from her presidential rivals even though "those boys have been getting tough on her lately."
Clinton's comment comes amid debate as to whether the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign's complaints about her rivals' "piling on" suggest the criticism is directed at the lone woman in the presidential race or the Democratic front-runner. Last week, Bill Clinton. in defense of his wife against political critics, cited the "swift boat" television ads of the 2004 presidential campaign that questioned John Kerry's patriotism and the campaign commercials in 2002 that suggested Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia was soft on terrorism.
Several Democratic candidates said they were surprised by the analogy.
"It's a great time to be a Democrat," Bill Clinton told more than 800 students and supporters at Trident Technical College. "Even though those boys have been getting tough on her lately, she can handle it."
Clinton said he loves campaigning for his wife and paying back for all those years she campaigned for him for governor of Arkansas and president.
"She says I have to work hard because free campaign help is hard to come by," Clinton quipped.
Clinton said that his wife's positions on education, health care, the economy and international affairs make her the best qualified candidate to be president.
The United States needs to get out of Iraq, but "we have to do it in a way that doesn't leave it worse than it is now," he said. "Hillary was the first to ask the Pentagon for a plan for orderly withdrawal."
The nation must restore its standing in the world, something Clinton said has been damaged during the Bush administration.
"They think we act alone whenever we can and cooperate only when we have to," he said, adding that his wife will seek to cooperate first and have the United States act alone only when necessary.
The reason the nation can't enforce tough trade regulations with the Chinese is because they are now America's banker, Bill Clinton said.
"When was the last time you got tough on your banker?" he asked the crowd.