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(Photo by M.B. Hersh)

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: In addition to appearing at the Rush Holt fundraiser, former President Bill Clinton was in the area to promote his new biography. After leaving the event in Hopewell, Mr. Clinton appeared at Sam's Club in West Windsor for a booksigning.

Clinton Stumps for Holt on Book Tour

Matthew Hersh

Name recognition for a political fundraiser is a surefire way to spark interest in a cause and attract a crowd, but when the marquee name is a former President with a new book out, celebrity status doesn't just speak volumes, it sells volumes as well.

On a promotion tour for his new biography, My Life, former president Bill Clinton helped stump for Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th District), addressing about 430 people and helping raise over $300,000 for Mr. Holt's re-election campaign. Tickets for the event, which was catered by Main Street, ranged from a lofty $500 for a book signing to an even loftier $1,000 for a photograph with Mr. Clinton.

Preaching to the political choir, Mr. Clinton appeared relaxed throughout his unscripted 30-minute speech, keeping one hand in his pocket while using the other to emphasize some of the same points he made during his Democratic Convention address. The audience had already heard introductory remarks from hosts Bob and Lisa Stockman, and presentations by Gov. James McGreevey, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15th District), and Rep. Holt himself.

"I have finished signing all of your books, so I'm guaranteed a partial standing ovation," Mr. Clinton quipped as he addressed the crowd in the big tent on the Stockman estate. Mr. Clinton last appeared at the Stockman's Hopewell residence in 2000 while campaigning for Rep. Holt during the congressman's bid for a second term.

The former President lauded Rush Holt as a member of Congress who had spoken out against the Clinton impeachment proceedings in 1998. "He stuck it to the people trying to stick it to me, so I liked him," Mr. Clinton said.

The President took a more serious tone when he turned to some of the issues that have defined the current presidential race.

In a nod to the recently published report issued by the 9/11 Commission, Mr. Clinton said that "In my lifetime, no President has neglected national security as he saw it," adding that "no American President and no American Congress would ever knowingly compromise the security of the country." But he openly questioned President George W. Bush's motives and reasoning for going to war, citing the recent endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry by several high-ranking former Bush officials, including onetime special envoy to Iraq, General Anthony Zinni. "If John Kerry cannot be trusted with your national security, have all these people suddenly flipped their lids? Why are they doing this? Not because Bush doesn't love his country and wants to defend America, but because his decisions are wrong."

Mr. Clinton suggested that the administration should have applied more energy to targeting Osama Bin Laden and al Queda instead of going after Saddam Hussein, citing conclusions reached in the 9/11 Commission's report and indicating a lack of evidence linking al Queda and the Iraqi dictator: "Look at this last terror alert. Did it come out of Iraq? Have we ever had a domestic terror alert out of Iraq? Where did it come from? It came from the arrest of somebody involved in the Africa embassy bombings, and the arrest of a Pakistani computer whiz who was up to his eyeballs in al Qaeda planning against financial targets in America."

Mr. Clinton also said he was tired of Republican attack ads accusing John Kerry of flip-flopping about his stance on the war. His passionate summation of the true details of the two votes (that Kerry voted for the $67 billion in the bill for the troops but not for the $20 billion slush fund the President "could do whatever he wanted with") had the crowd cheering and gave the event a rousing conclusion.

Interviewed after the President's remarks, Rep. Holt said that he had tried to put an amendment into the original $87 billion bill that would preclude uncompleted contracts for the so-called slush fund. "It might be thought of as the Halliburton amendment," he said. The amendment was subsequently defeated. "Those who are protecting the special interests said 'We have to protect the uncompleted grants so that we can have complete discretion of how we give this [money] up,' but it wasn't about vests for the troops, it was not about armoring the Humvees, it was about contracts for special interests."

Running for his fourth Congressional term, Mr. Holt has sustained approval in the district since defeating former Republican incumbent Mike Pappas in 1998; the 12th district still has a substantial Republican demographic, however, and this year's Republican candidate is Bill Spadea, a former U.S. Marine who is running for public office for the first time.

Rep. Holt sees the Clinton record as a positive factor in what he predicted could be a potentially close race in November because "it reminds us that with the right type of leadership, we can have a healthy economy with good-paying jobs, a balanced budget, and a safe America that is both strong at home and respected in the world."

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