Hillary Clinton has a big job for her husband: the economy

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets patrons at the Lone Oak Little Castle Restaurant in Paducah, Ky., Monday, May 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hillary Clinton has a big job in mind for her husband if she wins the White House: revitalizer-in-chief.

Before a cheering crowd in a Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, backyard on the weekend, Clinton pledged to put her husband — who won the state in 1992 and 1996 — “in charge of revitalizing the economy.”

Clinton is offering few details about what he’d do, though she’s previously said that her husband would focus on distressed communities like those in coal country. When asked whether he would have a cabinet post, she shook her head and mouthed no.

Spokesman Nick Merrill said Clinton would be getting ahead of herself to talk about “any sort of formalized role for anyone. But, he added, Bill Clinton “has a lot to offer and it would be foolish not to use that in some capacity.”

It would be a slightly surprising portfolio for the former president, who’s often blamed for overseeing the financial deregulation that led to the recession. But Hillary Clinton is hoping voters, particularly in depressed places like West Virginia and Kentucky, remember the boom times of his administration.

Clinton frequently rattles off statistics from her husband’s time in the White House, pointing to economic growth that averaged 4 percent per year, rising median family income and a budget deficit that turned into a surplus.

“I’ve already told my husband that if I’m so fortunate enough to be president and he will be the first gentleman, I expect him to go to work,” she people at a smoky diner in Paducah, Kentucky, on Monday.

The diner was filled with many people who affectionately recall previous visits by the Clintons. Bill Clinton campaigned in the town right before the 1992 election that made him president.

Joanne Clark, 54, of Paducah exclaimed that she had shaken hands with Bill Clinton then. Hillary Clinton said: “He’s gotta get out of retirement!”

Bill Clinton’s path to the White House ran through the South, wooing swing voters in places such as Kentucky and West Virginia. His wife swept all three states in her primary run in 2008 against then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

But this year, she’s struggled to connect with those voters, who’ve been drawn to the populist economic messages of rival Bernie Sanders and GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

Last week, she lost the West Virginia primary by double digits to Sanders. About a third of voters in the Democratic race said they would support Trump over either Clinton or Sanders in November, according to exit polls. An additional 2 in 10 said they wouldn’t vote for either candidate.

Clinton is trying to stave off a similar defeat in Kentucky on Tuesday, with a two-day swing through the state. Oregon also holds a primary Tuesday.

But some of the key achievements of Bill Clinton’s administration form the basis of Trump and Sanders’ critique against his wife. When Bill Clinton showed up to campaign in West Virginia earlier this month, he was greeted with protests and boos.

His administration’s refusal to step up regulation of exotic financial instruments known as derivatives was blamed in large measure for the collapse of the financial sector years later. And his agenda was driven by support for trade deals, including one that gave China better access to the U.S. market, that are held responsible by elements of both parties for driving jobs out of the country.

While his wife is on track to clinch the nomination in perhaps a few weeks, Sanders continues to win contests and has pledged to stay in the race until the July convention. Clinton wants to turn her attention to the general election contest but can’t fully shift with the Vermont senator still competing.

Clinton is getting early general election assistance from Priorities USA, a super PAC stocked with cash from her wealthiest friends and supporters. The group is set to begin ads this week portraying Trump as a con man. The $6 million worth of commercials will run in likely swing states Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada through June 8, when a far larger ad buy kicks in.

A win either in Kentucky or Oregon would help Clinton heading into the primaries in California and New Jersey in early June. Oregon is favorable for Sanders, but Clinton’s campaign thinks the race is competitive in Kentucky.

Clinton is spending about $325,000 on Kentucky ads. Sanders, after seeing her reserve airtime, followed with $126,000 in ads, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.

___

Lerer reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington contributed

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