With Hillary campaigning out west, Bill Clinton viisted the rural eastern-central Iowa town of Amana this evening. Amana is a curious place, founded in the 1850s by a sect of German "Inspirationists" seeking an isolated site for their communal settlements. (Excitingly, it's also the birthplace of the microwave and now a major refrigerator capital.) It is part of the wonderful strangeness of the primary process that the former leader of the free world appeared in a hanger-like building at the town's "RV Park and Events Center."  

He largely hewed to the same themes that Hillary has been offering on the stump: The need to undo Bush policies that he says favor the rich over the middle class, health care reform, energy independence, etc. But my sense is that the main thing Bill adds is an aura of statesmanship and global mastery that the Obama and Edwards campaigns just can't match.

"There is a better than 50-50 percent chance that the next president will have to face a crisis that none of us will talk about in Iowa," Clinton said, reminding people that in 2000 no one campaigned on "9/11, Katrina or Pakistan." The point, naturally, was that only Hillary has the seasoning and experience to handle such emergencies. It struck me as a powerful message to hear from a man who sat in the Oval Office for eight years.

Bill spoke to a relatively small and subdued crowd. After delivering his remarks he took no questions, removing the possibility of some unscripted exchange that might dominate the last news cycle before caucus day. And for the same reason, no doubt, the Clinton press aides at the event were extremely paranoid about any reporters getting near Bill on the rope line. "Keep back," one instructed me when I approached the throng with notebook and pen in hand. "What?," I asked. "We're keeping press back. We want to keep this quiet for caucus-goers."

From that point, as I followed Bill along the rope line, the aide was never more than about two arms lengths away from me. Given Bill's recent antics, though, I can't say I really blame her.

--Michael Crowley