Out of the Woods / 'Mr. Presidents' -- Dems' dynamite duo
Published 6:20 am, Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Judging by the cozy new political relationship between President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic "A" team for campaigning purposes this year looks like it is turning out to be the one-time "dream" ticket of 2008 -- Obama and Clinton. But this time it's Bill, not Hillary.
With Bill Clinton's enormously expanded influence in the past four years, it is no wonder that Obama strategists have decided to tie the popular former president closely to Obama's campaign appearances. They want to showcase both Clinton's extraordinary talents as a rainmaker as well as his successful economic policies, which Obama often refers to as a map for his back-to-the future" campaign, with its newly-announced slogan: "Forward."
Clinton is also said to have agreed to be an informal, closely-in-touch advisor.
The two presidents recently appeared at a Virginia fund-raiser that took in more than $2 million and, according to Obama aides, the campaign is working up a nationwide plan for the duo to appear together in all of the key swing states. That is a giant plus for Obama. The only downside might be that Clinton outshines Obama with his ebullient personality and homespun way of connecting with large crowds. Of course, if Obama once again goes into high gear with his emotional oratory, they could be a one-two punch on any platform.
The interaction between the two totally different politicians will be the key as to whether or not having Bill Clinton by his side will actually translate into votes. A great deal depends on how they appear and what they say. The pundits will undoubtedly have a field day analyzing the situation as the campaign roars into high gear this summer and fall.
Westporters are quite familiar, of course, with both Clintons, who back in the 1990s attended multiple fundraisers at supporters' private homes here for both Bill's presidential and for Hillary's New York senate campaigns.
In a brief conversation at a National Hall fundraiser on March 10, 1998, I reminded Clinton of his first visit here in 1991 at a fundraiser at the home of local Democratic political kingmaker Ann Sheffer. I told him that he was only the third sitting president to visit here, following George Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
His response, as he looked at me with his usual, warm smile: "It's been a long road since I first came to Westport as a candidate [in 1991]. I can't image why only Washington and Roosevelt have been here. The others must not have known what they were missing."
It is that kind of one-liner that ingratiates Clinton to many people.
Political observers have noted that Obama is embracing Bill Clinton as a party "wise man" who can lend his prestige as a respected national Democratic icon to Obama in his quest to be the second Democratic president to be re-elected to two-terms in modern-day politics. In recent weeks there has been a noticeable effort by both presidents to reach out to one another, despite their ambivalent relationship in the past.
Obama, who officially opened his 2012 campaign last weekend, campaign recently released a video narrated by Bill Clinton testifying to the "boldness" of Obama's historic decision to send helicopters into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden in his secret compound.
Moreover, Clinton joined Obama for a fundraiser intended to warm up the former president's formidable network of big contributors and to merge the two wings of the party -- the left-liberal and the moderate-right -- that clearly split apart during the 2008 Democratic primaries between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Obama spins it this way: "You guys get two presidents for one out of this event, which is a pretty good deal," he told the guests at the Virginia fund-raiser. David Axelrod, Obama's longtime political confidant, said the two men now have a good working relationship.
"When you're president, there are very few people to whom you can turn who really `get' what the job demands," Axelrod said, according to one published report. "President Clinton has been the source of very good advice, and very meaningful support."
Nonetheless, it is clear to most political insiders that the new team of Obama and Bill Clinton has been formed as a pragmatic, hard-nosed political calculation. It is a marriage of convenience, not a close personal friendship.
Obama is expected to deploy Clinton to help move voters in centrist and conservative states where Obama by himself would be less effective. In addition, Clinton's record on the economy, adding millions of jobs during his eight years, may help. Obama, in effect, hopes to emulate Clinton's political middle-of-the-road posture to win a second term.
Anything can happen in this surprisingly unpredictable year. Maybe Clinton will accompany Obama to Westport, home of many loyal Democratic contributors with deep pockets.