Does Bill Clinton on the Campaign Trail Help or Hurt President Obama?


The Washington Post recently called former President Bill Clinton “the best surrogate in the country.” President Barack Obama is embracing Clinton’s appeal, and tomorrow the two will come together for a joint fund-raiser at the home of Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair in 2008 when she ran against Obama in the primary. The joint fundraiser will be the first of at least three that Bill Clinton and Obama are planning together.

Bill Clinton went from referring to Obama’s stance on Iraq as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen” to praising Obama’s decisiveness in ordering the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in “One Chance,” one of the Obama campaign’s latest ads. The coming together of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, two Democratic titans, will strengthen the party as the presidential campaign heads into November.

Former Vice President Al Gore made a huge mistake when he distanced himself from Clinton in the 2000 campaign in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Obama campaign is not going to make the same mistake. Some worry that Clinton stumping for Obama is risky. But Clinton is clearly an asset.

Clinton’s appeal is especially helpful with white working-class voters, a demographic that President Obama struggled to attract in 2008 and is having trouble attracting now as well. Clinton connects with voters in some battleground states in a way that has eluded Obama.

Obama’s record is impressive, but the public may not be giving Obama credit for his accomplishments because he “has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office.” Many of Obama’s policies and accomplishments have directly benefited some of the white working-class voters that only tepidly support him. For example, Obama has consistently lowered taxes for families making less than $250,000. He revamped the student loan industry, making borrowing cheaper for students and increasing Pell grants for the neediest college students. He also has consistently supported an increase in funding for job-training programs, while his opponents have sought to cut funding for them. Obama understood that the U.S. automobile industry could not be allowed to fail and structured a bail-out for that industry when the Republicans were pushing for its collapse. The auto industry bail-out alone saved thousands of jobs occupied by white working-class voters in the Mid-West in not just the auto industry but in the complimentary industries as well.

Clinton can help Obama connect with some of the communities where Obama has struggled. Clinton the messenger may be able to deliver the same message that some are unwilling to hear from Obama. Clinton has been critical of Obama at times over the past few years. But his criticism – which has never been very harsh – gives him credibility when he stands beside Obama and announces that Obama should be re-elected in the fall.

An Obama victory this fall also clearly helps the Clinton brand. It continues to show that the Clintons were not sore losers in 2008, which Hillary Clinton has demonstrated through her hard work as Secretary of State. Even if Hillary does not serve in Obama’s second term, the Clinton’s influence in the Obama administration will continue because the Obama administration has deep ties to the Clintons. Further, some of the very people who Bill Clinton can appeal to – so-called Reagan Democrats or Clinton Republicans – would be an asset for Hillary should she decide to run in 2016. Some political operatives have suggested that Bill’s stumping for Obama is an “act of generosity that also could be an investment for the future.” So the question may not be whether Bill helps Obama, but whether Bill helps Hillary by helping Obama. The answer seems obvious.