NEW YORK - Senator Hillary Clinton was hailed by her husband yesterday as the best Democratic choice for the White House at a rally just uptown from his Harlem office where they were greeted by the sweet sounds of the Abyssinian Baptist Church choir and the clapping of its congregation.
"I would be campaigning for Hillary even if I was not married to her," President Clinton said from the altar of the historic church on West 138th Street. "I believe she is the best-qualified, best-suited nonincumbent ever."
The Clintons appeared before the near-capacity crowd with the senator walking out first, followed by her husband. The church echoed with cheers as Bill Clinton saluted the crowd, which responded with chants of "Hillary! Hillary!"
The choir sang "Victory Is Mine" as the couple clapped along with their supporters.
After she was introduced by her husband, Hillary Clinton told the crowd it was time to return America "on the path to goodness and greatness again." She attacked the Bush administration for marginalizing the middle class, children, and other groups.
"We're going to make it clear there are no invisible people in America," the senator said.
The rally in the city's most famous black neighborhood was another indication of the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the black vote in the Democratic primary. Last month in California, she appeared in Watts and at a Beverly Hill fund-raiser with basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
Obama's name received a loud cheer from the audience when he was mentioned by Adolfo Carrion, borough president of the Bronx. The latest AP-Ipsos poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Obama, her closest rival, 46 percent to 25 percent.
The major candidates skipped the convention to honor a pledge not to campaign in Florida because the state violated party rules by setting its primary date before Feb. 5.
The convention comes in the middle of a monthslong feud over Florida's Jan. 29 primary. The GOP-dominated Legislature and Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican, pushed through the new date last spring.
After considering holding caucuses after Feb. 5 to meet national party rules, the state party decided to stick with the early primary so as many people as possible can participate.
The Democratic National Committee responded by voting to strip Florida of all its delegates. Florida Democrats were given 30 days to change their minds. They refused.
President Bush has said there could be a continuing presence, similar to what the nation has in South Korea. But Thompson was leery of the idea in an interview with Associated Press. "It's hard to see that far in the future, but I would certainly hope not," he said.
The former senator from Tennessee, a supporter of the war, found faults in the way it has been handled.
"I think we clearly didn't go in with adequate forces the first time," he said. "Clearly we didn't understand the nature of what we were facing and that it was going to take a good while in order to get control of the situation."