SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton brought her husband along to the New York State Fair on Friday, drawing a sharp contrast with her likely Republican rival in next year's Senate race, who has mostly kept her scandal-plagued husband out of public view since announcing her candidacy.
"I'm basically here because the senator told me to be here, and I do what I am told," the former president playfully told a luncheon crowd gathered in a banquet hall on the fairgrounds.
The carefully staged visit by the Clintons — which drew huge and enthusiastic crowds — was more than just another photo opportunity. It foreshadowed the active role that her advisers say Clinton will almost certainly play in his wife's re-election campaign, at a time when many Democrats are expressing a measure of nostalgia about his presidency in this period of Republican dominance in Washington.
By design or not, the joint appearance by the Clintons also came just a few weeks after Jeanine F. Pirro, the Republican district attorney in Westchester County, was bedeviled by questions about the background of her husband, Albert J. Pirro, when she announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
Albert Pirro, an influential Republican lobbyist, served 11 months in federal prison for his conviction on tax fraud in 2000. He also fathered a child in an extramarital relationship in the 1980's, a matter that has recently drawn heavy scrutiny.
Pirro and her advisers seem to be uneasy about his history. When Pirro officially announced her candidacy in early August during a series of appearances around the state over several days, her husband was nowhere to be found on the campaign trail, prompting questions about whether she and her advisers had been keeping him away.
It was not until the last stop of the statewide tour announcing the candidacy that Albert Pirro finally stood beside his wife in front of the Westchester County Courthouse, where she has her offices.
The rocky start of Pirro's campaign — she was rendered nearly speechless for 32 seconds because a page of her announcement speech was misplaced — appears to be reflected in a poll released this week by the Siena Research Institute.
The poll showed that the number of New Yorkers with an unfavorable opinion of Pirro climbed to 20 percent in August, after she announced her candidacy, from 12 percent in July. It also showed that the number of New Yorkers with a favorable opinion dropped to 26 percent from 27 percent in the same period. This suggests that Pirro has not enjoyed the traditional bounce in favorable opinion that comes with the announcement of a major candidacy.
On the other hand, Clinton's lead over Pirro fell to 55-34 in August, from 57-31 in July, according to the Siena poll.
Michael McKeon, a Pirro adviser, said it was still early in the race and predicted that "Jeanine Pirro is going to beat Hillary Clinton as more New Yorkers learn about the senator's failed record." In political circles, the question of what impact and role the spouses would have in a Clinton-Pirro match-up has been a topic of considerable speculation. Republicans have said that any attempts by Democrats to make an issue of Pirro's troubles would ultimately backfire, given the personal problems Clinton has gone through. But Democratic allies of the senator scoff at that, noting that Bill Clinton is a popular figure in heavily Democratic New York and proved to be an asset in 2000 when he campaigned for her.
By and large, the former president's appearance here drew enthusiastic onlookers, though there were a few scattered jeers as he made his way through the crowd. A throng of visitors spent more than two hours outside the banquet hall where the Clintons appeared for the luncheon, apparently to catch a glimpse of them. The crowd erupted in cheers when the couple appeared.
"President Clinton, can you wave to this little boy," a woman shouted, hoisting a small child into the air.
Clinton used part of her visit to discuss her accomplishments in Washington on behalf of the people of upstate New York, a traditional stronghold for Republicans that has voted Democratic in recent statewide elections.
In particular, Clinton cited her role as a member of the Armed Services Committee in preventing the closing of military installations in Niagara and Rome that had been proposed by the Pentagon.
Clinton's visit to the state fair was her seventh since 1999, when she first considered running for the Senate in New York. It was the fifth visit for Clinton, who has not attended in the last two years.
Clinton also thanked visitors for giving her a chance in 2000, when she was a newcomer to the state, and sending her to the Senate. "We've made progress together," she said.
Pirro visited the fair last week, attending the opening ceremonies with Gov. George E. Pataki, the state's highest-ranking Republican, but not with her husband, according to one of her advisers. Pirro is in a battle for the Republican nomination with Edward F. Cox, a lawyer married to Richard M. Nixon's daughter Tricia.