CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina isn’t Arkansas. But it’s still the south. It’s been awhile since Bill Clinton occupied the White House. But he’s still awfully popular. Despite a little golf and a handful of fundraisers, Clinton and President Obama are not the best of friends.
But, boy, does Bill Clinton love to be the go-to guy.
It makes perfect political sense that Clinton has been tagged, as The New York Times reported, to formally place President Barack Obama’s name into nomination at the Democratic National Convention here in September, in prime time, and make the economic argument for four more years. This from the president who presided over a flush economy, served two terms and has never strayed far from center stage. The Clinton Global Initiative is one thing, but this speech puts him back into TV rooms across America. “There isn’t anybody on the planet who has a greater perspective on not just the last four years, but the last two decades, than Bill Clinton,” Obama strategist David Axelrod told the Times. “He can really articulate the choice that is before people.”
Despite the sometimes contentious relationship between the two Democratic presidents, Clinton won’t mind the attention and Obama will gladly accept the imprimatur. By taking such a public role, Clinton is giving his strongest endorsement yet for a second term for the president, and Bill Clinton does not like to lose. Neither, you may have noticed,
does President Obama.
At times so far during the 2012 campaign, Clinton has seemed ambivalent about Obama, disagreeing with him on his strategy to attack what Clinton called Republican Mitt Romney’s “sterling business career,” and on the decision to let Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans expire. (Clinton later backtracked on that one.)
Though Clinton always returns to the Democratic Party line, he maintains an independent and unpredictable profile. For his part, Obama must sometimes wonder what this former president is going to say next.
This convention move would be better than a truce, and it would happen in Clinton’s home region, in a swing state that Obama barely won in 2008 and is trying his best to hold on to in November. If its 15 electoral votes remain in the Democratic column, Clinton would surely get a fair share of the credit. Obama needs enthusiastic turnout; Clinton
has been known to work a crowd.
Obama has to know Bill Clinton and his prodigious political and oratorical skills are handy to have around on the big stage during your party’s big show, the one that sets the stage for November. (The fictional Clinton-like figure on the new TV series “Political Animals” hails from North Carolina, but with that accent would never be mistaken for the real thing.) Charlotte’s mix of the cosmopolitan and down-home should appeal to the man from Hope and Hot Springs, who operates out of New York City.
Just as President Obama made peace with Hillary Clinton after their 2008 primary fight, when he offered and she accepted the critical job of Secretary of State, he sees the up side to having both Clintons in his corner. Since Hillary Clinton won’t be attending the Charlotte convention “consistent with her not engaging in any political activity whatsoever,” a spokesman has said, maybe Bill Clinton and the current
president will make time for a round of golf.
Clinton’s role will steal some thunder from Vice President Biden, who will share the closing night with President Obama, but Biden has shown great loyalty to his president. (Wasn’t that stand-in speech at the NAACP convention a barnburner?)
As for Clinton, you wonder if he’s thinking of 2016 and if his wife, despite current denials, might decide to make a run for the presidency then. It might be an easier go after a second term for Obama, particularly a successful one, than against a GOP incumbent.
The best part of a Sept. 5 Bill Clinton convention speech followed by President Obama’s Sept. 6 climactic wrap-up? You just know political junkies and everyone else for that matter will be waiting to see who did it best.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3