By now, Bill Clinton’s political reputation is pretty well established. He can be a huge asset: see, for example, his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech, when he made a better case for Barack Obama’s re-election than the president himself. But he can also be a huge liability—like in 2008, when his "fairy tale” jab at Obama may have undermined the presidential candidacy of his wife, Hillary.

But judging from Bill Clinton’s appearance yesterday in Nashua, N.H.—his first solo event on Hillary’s behalf during her current White House bid—that conventional wisdom might not hold up anymore.

“Sometimes I follow this debate in the presidential election, especially when I watch the other guys debating, and I think, you know, I don’t fit anymore,” Clinton told a crowd massed in the Nashua Community College gymnasium. “First of all, I’m a happy grandfather. I’m not mad at anybody.”

That quip earned a few laughs. But it also highlighted the fact that Clinton seems to have lost some of his vigor. He spoke slowly, even haltingly, and his speech as a whole was strikingly subdued.

Couple that with Clinton’s relaxed, meandering conversational style, and there were times when today’s speech felt a bit like a sleepy college lecture. (During a discussion of the personal and political factors that limited the presidency of Franklin Pierce, a New Hampshire native, a young woman standing behind Clinton visibly fought back a yawn.)

And while Clinton did get in a few digs at his wife’s presidential rivals, they were subtle rather than scathing.

“They’re telling you what they believe,” Clinton said of the presidential field. “And so you gotta take ’em seriously. But you also have to take seriously whether they have any chance of doing what they say they’re gonna do, or any record of doing it.”

There’s one big caveat: as a relative latecomer to the 2016 campaign, Clinton may still need to find his rhythm. For what it’s worth, after nearly half an hour in Nashua, he finished on a high note.

“I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of great importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience, and temperament, to do what needs to be done now,” Clinton declared. His voice was louder than at any other point in his speech, and the crowd burst into applause.

Then again, that’s the sort kind of line you can imagine any would-be First Spouse delivering—another sign that Bill Clinton’s role in 2016 might be less dramatic, and more traditional, than anyone expected.