Bill Clinton reeled off a litany of statistics on global warming, explained why childhood obesity has become one of his pet causes and even quoted comedian Stephen Colbert -- all in the first half of a 45-minute speech on Monday afternoon in Rock Hill.
But the classic Clinton moment didn't come until near the end, when he turned to the most commonly voiced argument against his wife Hillary's bid for the presidency: That she's too polarizing to win a general election.
"They've been dumping on her for 16 years -- they'd be polarizing, too," he said of her Republican critics. "I'd like to see how those boys stand up to it. I think the girl has done pretty well. She looks great to be 60 years old."
Using that kind of common-man language to connect with an audience is a familiar habit for Clinton, who spoke to about 600 people in the Freedom Center gymnasium before moving over to shake hands in the sanctuary, where 400 waited in overflow seating.
The fire marshal cut off access to the gym well before Clinton's arrival, though the back half was mostly empty.
No response to Obama attack
Clinton was joined on stage by U.S. Rep. John Spratt, the York Democrat who praised the ex-president while being careful not to imply that he was endorsing Hillary. Spratt has said he doesn't expect to make an endorsement.
The same didn't appear true for Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, who sported a Hillary sticker on his jacket.
Calling some of President Bush's policies "a rigid experiment in extremism," Clinton borrowed a line from Colbert, the TV show host turned semi-serious presidential candidate: "He said, 'Most people make decisions based on facts. This administration makes facts based on decisions.'"
Clinton did not respond to recent comments from his wife's Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, except to say that he admires each of his party's candidates.
In an interview on Friday with The New York Times, Obama vowed to push Clinton on why she hasn't been more forthright with voters about the war in Iraq, Social Security and other key issues.
"I don't think people know what her agenda exactly is," Obama said. "Now it's been very deft politically, but one of the things that I firmly believe is that we've got to be clear with the American people right now."
Obama acknowledged holding back criticism toward Clinton, but added that "now is the time" to ratchet up the intensity.
On Monday afternoon, the Obama campaign e-mailed reporters with a new University of Iowa poll showing Clinton with a lead of only 2 points in the Hawkeye State.
Electoral vote majority
The former president, however, already seemed focused on his wife's next hurdle.
"In all the surveys, she's the only one who wins a majority of the electoral vote against any of the potential Republican nominees today," Clinton said.
That argument resonated with Ann Harrison, a Rock Hill native who works at Arby's and attends York Technical College, where she is training to become a paralegal.
Asked to explain her support, Harrison had a succinct answer: "One, 'cause she's a woman. Two, 'cause she's married to Bill Clinton. Three, 'cause she's the best person for the job. She will get us out of Iraq. And she will have a national health-care plan so that everybody will be covered."
As Harrison spoke, her friend Linda Lefler of York couldn't keep from interrupting to describe her brief encounter with the ex-president.
"I got a hug," she said with a smile.