On Midterm Stump, Clinton Is Defender in Chief

by
August 21, 2010


By JEFF ZELENY, The New York Times

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — The last time Bill Clinton and Barack Obama spent so many hours on the campaign trail, dashing across the country to appear before adoring crowds, they were on different sides of the Democratic argument.

So that is exactly where Mr. Clinton began when he arrived here this week.

“It’s no secret that I tried hard to defeat President Obama in the primaries — and some of you helped,” Mr. Clinton said, drawing a laugh from an audience in Palm Beach County, a place that was slow to embrace Mr. Obama two years ago.

“But I want to tell you something,” he continued, waiting for the crowd to listen. “It is my professional opinion that he has done a much better job than he has gotten credit for so far. And all elections are about the future, so what is the alternative?”

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A coast-to-coast campaign swing by Mr. Obama this week, his biggest plunge into the midterm election season to date, drew considerable attention as he raised money for Democrats in five states over three days. But in a series of less noticed trips to every corner of the country, it is Mr. Clinton who has stepped into the role of defending all Democrats — Mr. Obama included.

Few people may have more credibility paying a compliment to Mr. Obama than Mr. Clinton. Tense exchanges between the two men were an unforgettable element of the 2008 presidential race, which by all accounts Mr. Clinton took far longer to get over than Hillary Rodham Clinton did.

“If you’re a Democrat, you need to hold your head up,” Mr. Clinton said this week, delivering the pep talk of a coach who is disappointed with his team’s behavior. “I’m tired of reading about how we’re all belly-aching.”

The former president has become one of the party’s best salesmen. He has long been in demand to raise money for Democratic candidates, but now there is a more pressing need: raising the spirits of Democratic voters, dispensing wisdom as he works to put the party’s political challenges into a broader context.

A decade after he was banished from the campaign trail — seen at the time as a liability to Vice President Al Gore’s presidential ambitions — Mr. Clinton is now the most sought-after Democrat, logging 29 stops so far this year with more to come in the fall. He has been embraced by Democrats wherever he goes, even as several candidates have run the other way when Mr. Obama has arrived in their state.

In Nevada, Mr. Clinton campaigned for Senator Harry Reid in June. (“Why would you give away the Senate majority leader who has delivered time and time and time again?” Mr. Clinton asked a crowd in Las Vegas.)

In Pennsylvania, as he appeared this month for Representative Joe Sestak in his Senate race, he warned about what could happen if Republicans win control of Congress. (“Give us two more years, and if we’re wrong, send us packing,” he argued.)

And here in Florida, he made stops on Monday in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties on behalf of Representative Kendrick B. Meek, a longtime friend who faces an uphill Senate race. (“We haven’t built our way out of that hole as fast as anybody wanted, but it was a very deep hole,” Mr. Clinton told his audience.)

Mr. Clinton, who gives precedence to Democrats who endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, makes use of the perspective and latitude afforded to former presidents.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/us/politics/20zeleny.html?_r=1&ref=politics

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