Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday night that the actions of “an extreme sliver” of the Republican party have backfired and “profoundly divided” the country.

“(Democrats) believe in evidence and argument, not assertion and attack,” Clinton said. “…We’ve got a big responsibility. Forget about 2008. Forget about the politics. Just go out and find somebody and look them dead in the eye and say ‘You know, this is not right’…This is America. We can do better and this year, it’s a job that Democrats have to do alone.”

Over 3,500 Iowa Democrats paid $100 each to attend the Saturday evening fundraising banquet that kicked off with Clinton’s speech. About 50 people paid $10,000 per couple to attend a private reception with Clinton beforehand. Clinton did not take questions from reporters nor did Clinton comment directly about his wife’s potential bid for the job he used to have.

“You know, five will get you ten that half the stories about this event tomorrow will be something about 2008,” Clinton said before repeating: “Forget about it. Just for three and a half weeks, forget about it. ”

During his speech, Clinton lambasted Republicans who control the White House and Congress of using ideology to “paint themselves as pure and the rest of us who don’t agree with them as stained” in order to divide the country and stay in power.

“I have never seen the American people so serious. Look how quiet it is in here,” Clinton said. “People know things are out of whack, that fundamentally the order of, the rhythm of public life and our common life as Americans has been severely disturbed.”

Clinton boasted of his administration’s accomplishment of balancing the federal budget and winding up with a surplus when he left office. As he has on many occasions, Clinton criticized the tax cuts President Bush pushed through Congress and urged Democrats running for office this year to promise to correct the imbalance — and promise not to raise taxes in the process.

“What we brought to Washington was arithmetic,” Clinton said. “I had this dumb idea that if two and two is four in Little Rock and Des Moines, it was probably still four in Washington, D.C.”

Clinton, who spoke for about 50 minutes, said the Republican Party leadership has proven itself “spectacularly unsuited” to govern.

“People don’t connect the dots, but deep down inside they know that something is wrong,” Clinton said. “You cannot blame the entire Republican party for this for this reason. The entire government of the united States, the Congress, the White House and increasingly the courts for the last six years has been in the total control not of the Republican party but of the most ideological, the most right wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican Party.”

AUDIO of Clinton’s speech, runs 50 minutes.

If Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton does seek the White House in 2008 and actively campaigns in Iowa, she will be departing from her husband’s path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made just one appearance in Iowa before the 1992 Iowa Caucuses which were won by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. During that appearance in the fall of 1991, Hillary Clinton sat on a chair near the edge of the stage, eyes trained on her husband as he spoke at the 1991 Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.

Senator Clinton’s first solo speaking appearance on an Iowa political stage came in November of 2003 when she served as the emcee for an Iowa Democratic Party event which featured speeches from the men competing for the party’s 2004 presidential nomination.

“The interesting question is exactly how Senator Clinton is going to approach Iowa,” said Peverill Squire, a University of Iowa political science professor. “Other candidates have put a lot more time and energy into the state and there’s some evidence from polls…that people have some reservations about whether Senator Clinton’s elect-able, so I think she has to begin to think seriously about how she can reassure people that if she does run, she can win.”

“Clinton for President —” placards were wrapped around sign- and lamp-posts on the streets surrounding the banquet hall. A few volunteers handed out blue stickers featuring the name “Hillary” to Democrats as they walked into the event.

“I’ve always liked her and admired her,” said Marilyn Chido, a longtime Democratic party activist from Des Moines who put her “Hillary” sticker on her purse. “I think she’d be a great president.”

But B.J. Beach of Cedar Falls, Iowa, said she had passed right by the “little” signs about Hillary, then once inside the stickers caught her eye.

“This is fun,” Beach said. “Her spouse is here tonight, so why not?.”

Dick Meyers, a retired businessman from Iowa City, Iowa, who was at one time the Democrat leader in the Iowa House, said most Democrats are focused on the election that’s just 23 days away, not the one that’s two years down the road.

“People came to hear the president,” Meyers said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Squire, the U-of-I political science professor, suggests the Clintons at some point must decide when the former president becomes the surrogate campaigner and Senator Clinton becomes the headliner. Squire also points out that many other Democrats who are preparing to run in 2008 have spent much more time than either Clinton has in Iowa.

For example, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, has been a frequent visitor to Iowa since the 2004 election. On Saturday alone, Edwards made stops in six eastern Iowa cities, with visits to three central and southern Iowa locales scheduled for Sunday.

“The Clintons don’t have an organization here and certainly Senator Clinton hasn’t spent much time here trying to assemble one,” Squire said. “But given how well-known she is and given the fact that by most measures she’s the front-runner right now, she may be one candidate who can get away with not having an organization in place and still do well in the (Iowa) Caucuses.”