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Bill Clinton lays out the stakes for his wife and nation in Democratic presidential contest

Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, his wife, at a rally in Bridgeton.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, his wife, at a rally in Bridgeton.

For 40 minutes, Bill Clinton embraced his image as "explainer in chief" as he laid out a series of reasons he believed his wife is the most qualified and best candidate to be the next president.

His audience Tuesday consisted of several hundred Hillary Clinton supporters, many of them union members and party activists, packing the Machinists union hall in Bridgeton.

Besides praising Hillary Clinton's economic and legislative skills, Bill Clinton also asserted that many rights  Americans take for granted are at risk if one of her Republican rivals ends up in the White House.

“You will not recognize this country in four or five years, if we have one those people running on the other side as president, a Republican Congress and a Republican Supreme Court,” he said.

At one point, Bill Clinton -- noticeably hoarse -- acknowledged that his speech wasn't filled with simple talking points: "I know this isn't a law school class and it's getting hot in here. But this is worth thinking about."

The supportive crowd appeared to agree.

"Nobody can explain policies like Bill Clinton can,'' said Hope Whitehead, a St. Louis lawyer and former state legislator. She has been knocking on doors on Hillary Clinton's behalf for sometime.

Bill Clinton's local appearance came after a morning event in Evanston, Ill. (A Kansas City visit was cancelled earlier Tuesday afternoon when poor weather prevented his plane from landing.)

Still, both bistate stops signaled that the importance of Missouri and Illinois to Hillary Clinton's political fortunes arguably has grown even more, especially as a result her campaign's mixed results in Tuesday's primaries elsewhere. She handily captured Mississippi, but narrowly lost union-stronghold Michigan to Democratic rival Bernie Sanders in an unexpected upset.

Former President Bill Clinton speaks in support of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, his wife, at a rally in Bridgeton.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Former President Bill Clinton

The upshot is that the March 15 primary states, which include Missouri and Illinois, could be pivotal in determining whether Clinton can fend off Sanders, or if he is growing into a more formidable threat.

Bill Clinton didn't mention Sanders by name at Tuesday's rally, although he did focus on some of the issues -- income inequality, corporate misdeeds and high college tuition -- that have drawn some Democrats and independents to Sanders.

He contended that many workers are suffering because of poor corporate decisions to focus on short-term gains for shareholders, which Clinton said in the longterm hurt the companies and their employees.

Bill Clinton recalled the nation's economic boom during the 1990s, while he was president, implying that his wife's election could help restore such growth. "It's not about me. We can do this again,'' he said.

Clinton also called for changes in federal law to allow college students to refinance their loans,  much like mortgages are now, which both Clintons maintain could save students thousands of dollars in interest payments.

And he reaffirmed his belief that the Supreme Court's "Citizen United'' ruling -- which allows unlimited corporate and individual donations to independent groups that don't have to identify their donors -- threatens  democracy.

But amid such concerns and promises, Bill Clinton said his wife's election also could help restore another missing aspect of government -- bipartisanship.

Bill Clinton said that his wife recognized the importance of compromise -- unlike her rivals, in either party.

“The real reason I want you to vote for her, is she’s the best change maker I ever met," he said. "And ever since she moved to Washington, D.C., every single solitary good thing she did, she managed to get Republican support for.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.