The 42nd president of the United States was nearly an hour late in picking up the microphone Sunday evening at North Medford High School.

The 42nd president of the United States was nearly an hour late in picking up the microphone Sunday evening at North Medford High School.

But the roughly 2,500 people waiting in the school's gymnasium didn't seem to mind.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is an amazing election," Bill Clinton began. "And aren't you glad your votes are going to count?"

A rousing cheer answered his slightly veiled reference to calls by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that Hillary Rodham Clinton should drop out of the Democratic presidential race and support rival Barack Obama.

"I believe Hillary is going to have big victories in Pennsylvania as she did in Ohio," Bill Clinton said.

"She thinks it's a good thing we're going to take this election all the way to the end. She thinks it's a good thing for the people of Oregon and Montana and South Dakota and Puerto Rico and Kentucky and West Virginia and Indiana and North Carolina and Pennsylvania that they are going to be heard.

"If you vote for her, she will be the nominee and the next president of the United States," he said, drawing another round of cheers.

Outside, a handful of protesters held signs opposing abortion, and one protester's sign said, "Liar, liar," referring to Hillary Clinton's recent statement that she'd landed in Bosnia under sniper fire as first lady in 1996.

Although the event was billed as a town hall session in which he would take questions from the audience, the former president took no questions. Instead, he spoke enthusiastically about his wife's leadership abilities for an hour and 20 minutes.

She is expected to visit the Rogue Valley later in April.

"I would be here for Hillary even if we had never met," he said of his first campaign stop in Oregon on his wife's behalf. "I think she's the best candidate for president in decades."

A Hillary Clinton administration would rebuild the middle class, resolve the mortgage crisis, reform the federal government to work for the good of the people instead of special interests, end the war in Iraq, improve care for veterans, make the nation more energy-efficient and restore the nation's status worldwide, he said.

"I think she is the best change-maker I've ever known," he said, later adding that the public supports changes by the next administration to undo a lot of what the Bush administration has done.

Noting that a president must never forget he or she is the most fortunate public servant on the planet, he said evidence of Hillary Clinton's willingness to work for the public good was taking a relatively low-paying job with the Children's Defense Fund after receiving an Ivy League law school diploma.

"She was knocking on the doors of poor people's houses to find out why their kids were dropping out of school," he said, noting she learned the students had minor physical or mental disabilities whose needs were not being met in school.

Her work along with others led to the passage of the landmark Individuals With Disabilities For Education Act, which guaranteed they would be helped, he said. As a result of that act, countless children have been helped across the nation, he said.

"She raised money in Arkansas to start America's first rural development bank to give small loans to men and women who lost their jobs in factories and on farms so they could begin again," said the former Arkansas governor. "That bank is still going great guns.

"She has always been a change maker," he continued, adding, "What you want in the White House is somebody who can make a positive change in people's lives."

As a U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton has worked to get help for New York City firefighters and police officers after they became ill from breathing in the polluted air from the Sept. 11 attack, he said. As a person dedicated to helping veterans, she also has worked to improve care for GIs returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

As president, Hillary Clinton would work to improve the nation's energy efficiency, her husband said, noting such action also would improve the nation's economy.

She calls for more government support for improving alternative energy sources, such as biomass, wind and solar, as one way to create job growth, he said, adding that is better than subsidizing big oil companies.

"I have never met anybody (like her) who could look at a problem and be able to see what can be done to make it better and how it should be done," he said.

He is expected to campaign for Sen. Clinton in Portland, Salem and Bend today.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.