The former president reveals what keeps his wife going – and what he thinks of Obama

By Sharon Cotliar
May 22, 2008 04:25 PM

“I not only love her. I honor the things she has done,” former President Bill Clinton says of the person he hopes will be the next occupant of the White House: his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Speaking to PEOPLE on May 18 on the campaign trail in Oregon, Clinton provided his personal perspective on what is shaping up to be one of the toughest campaigns in recent memory.

Is it harder to campaign for Hillary than it was for yourself?
No, for me in a way it’s easier – except that it’s harder for me not to talk too long because I get the feeling that if they all knew her like I do, she’d get 80 percent of the vote.

What has the best part been?
Chelsea’s emergence has been the second best thing. The most amazing thing is Hillary’s ability to endure in the face of all the blows that have been rained on her: being outspent, dismissed, denigrated, declared dead When I met her, I found that in her personal relationships she lacked self-confidence and was painfully shy. She is having more fun now than at the beginning. If you look at her, she seems perfectly relaxed, doesn’t she?

How often do you talk to Hillary during the day?
Probably three times a day on the phone. I got in the habit of not being an e-mailer when I was President because we had Newt Gingrich, who wanted to subpoena every e-mail ever written in the White House.

You’ve called the campaign press coverage biased against Hillary. Why do you think that is?
I think most of the press people are in Obama’s demographic. They need a feeling more than they perceive they need a President. There have been times when I thought I was literally lost in a fun house.

Were you surprised when Oprah Winfrey, one of your past supporters, backed Obama?
No. Oprah is from Chicago. She was never going to be for anybody but Obama.

Many people say the race is over. What keeps Hillary going?
She just feels it’s the right thing to do to just finish the course. Let everybody vote. Let every vote be counted and see where we are.

Will this fight go all the way to the convention?
It depends on what happens between now and then. It’s been really funny that when all she asked was to let all the votes be counted, the response from the other side was to pressure as many superdelegates as possible, in districts mostly that she carried, to come out against her.

If Obama is the nominee, what will you and Hillary do to unite the party?
There have been some rumbles about leaving this party divided but not one of them has come out of our camp. Not one. Ever. She is our family’s leader on political matters now. I’ll follow her lead. Our life has been rich and good and full and will be. And we love our country and want the best for it.

What do you think of Obama personally? Do you like him?
I don’t know him very well. I did one event for him when he ran for the Senate. He’s an immensely talented man. I think I understand him. There are enough similarities in our childhoods and things that I think I get what he is doing. But I do think it’s better to have made a lot of decisions before you get to be President.

How do you respond to those who charge that you and Hillary have played the race card?
I’m not responsible for what other people say and what other people think. I have lived too long. All I can say is “You line up what you’ve done, I’ll line up what I’ve done, and we’ll see who’s got a good life.” I was really hurt about it at first. I am way over being hurt. This was cold-blooded, calculated, manipulated and a revolting strategy.

Any way you could have handled things better?
The only thing I regret is saying any of this stuff late at night when I was tired, ’cause if you are tired or angry, you shouldn’t be talking. We needed to give ourselves Miranda warnings.

Is there anything you want voters to know?
When I was so tired, I either was not as precise as I should have been or I seemed angrier than I would have been. That’s always a mistake. If I am to have any blame, that’s it.

Do you think you ever acted more like a husband than a politician?
Probably a couple of times when I was mad.

What have you learned about Chelsea’s political skills?
We always respected her desire to appear enough to show she really loved her mother and supported her, but not in any way to undermine the independent business career she has. It all changed after Iowa. She realized her mother lost Iowa 100 percent because of younger voters. She was upset, bawled, went into her employer and said, “Look, you got to let me go or give me an indefinite leave of absence. I’m not letting my mother go down like this.”

Do you think Chelsea will ever run for office?
I don’t know. If you asked me this before Iowa, I would have said, “No way. She is too allergic to anything we do.” But she is really good at it.