Bill Clinton: The best surrogate in the country

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/26/2012

Bill Clinton is the best surrogate in the country.

When it comes to primaries, especially, the man just wins.

On Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Clinton’s endorsement helped guide Rep. Mark Critz and attorney general candidate Kathleen Kane both to come-from-behind victories in their respective primaries.
Former President Bill Clinton, center, speaks with Brett Egan, left, and his mother Charlotte Egan at an Arts summit at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., on April 17. (Danny Johnston/AP)

Earlier this month, his endorsement carried businessman John Delaney to an unlikely victory in a congressional primary over a Maryland state legislative leader who had the backing of Gov. Martin O’Malley and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). And it wasn’t close.

Think back two years, and Clinton had a major impact in two big-time Democratic Senate primaries, helping Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) win renomination and nearly helping Andrew Romanoff upset Sen. Michael Bennet — against the wishes of the White House, we might add.

In almost every case, Clinton’s candidate exceeded expectations significantly, which heavily suggests that the president can still move votes.

But while Clinton has had a major impact in these primaries, he hasn’t really had a great opportunity to move votes in the general election in recent years. 2012 could change that.

“Bill Clinton isn’t just a bright shiny object for the primary, he’s a gold star in the general as well,” said Democratic strategist Jef Pollock. “President Clinton can be very effective and remains popular with a broad range of voters who will be key swing groups come November.”

Indeed, Clinton is also one of the few politicians who gives his wife a run for her money in the popularity department. A Pew poll from about a year ago (the most recent we could find) showed 67 percent of people viewing the former president favorably, including 27 percent who viewed him very favorably.

Democratic strategist Jon Vogel said President Obama winning at the top of the ticket is the best thing that could happen to Democrats down-ballot.

“But there is no doubt that President Clinton is a rock star, and the more he is out campaigning for Democrats, the better we are,” Vogel said.

The fact is that Obama remains a very polarizing figure in American politics, and many or most of the districts Democrats have to win to regain the House didn’t vote for him even in 2008.

Now, of course, the president is less popular than in 2008, and he’s obviously got his own race to worry about. And unlike George W. Bush before him, Obama hasn’t been as involved in downballot races and really taken to helping his Democratic colleagues get reelected.

Which is where Clinton could come in.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time Clinton has helped Critz win; he also gave the congressman a boost in a May 2010 special election. That race took place in a district that Obama lost in 2008 and quite simply wasn’t going to be much help in.

Whatever help Clinton might have been later in 2010, though, was mitigated by the environment that plagued his party in October of that year.

In a more neutral environment, though, it’s not hard to see Clinton showing up in districts like Critz’s or even in Arizona in the upcoming special election for former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) conservative-leaning district.

Clinton is a particularly good surrogate in this day and age, because he reminds people of a better day, when a Democratic president was delivering budget surpluses.

“In terms of stumping partners, there’s no question President Clinton will be the hot ticket in 2012,” said Democratic strategist John Lapp. “He brings energy and excitement for Democrats and independents, but also an immediate connection to economic recovery and growth. Many credit Clinton with making the difference in underdog Congressman Critz’s surprising win.”

But Republicans say that reminder of better days could actually work against Obama.

“’Most Valuable Surrogate’ is a low threshold to achieve. He’s better than Biden but that isn’t saying much either,” said GOP strategist Dan Hazelwood. “Clinton ... is a subtle reminder that Hope from Chicago is a weaker economic manager than the man from Hope (Arkansas) is billed as.”

Either way, as long as Clinton is game for a heavy campaign schedule and Democrats aren’t worried about him stealing Obama’s thunder or stepping on the message, we would expect a heavy dose of him in the general election.

Obama to launch campaign: Obama’s campaign announced late Wednesday that it would officially launch with two campaign events in Ohio and Virginia next weekend.

The two events will both take place at colleges and continue Obama’s dialogue with young voters, who were key to his 2008 victory and promise to be pivotal again in 2012.

“Welcome to the general election,” said Obama senior strategist David Axelrod.

Axelrod and Obama campaign adviser Jim Messina said the race would be about “that basic American compact that if you work hard you can get ahead,” and they also noted they would highlight what they see as Romney’s record of protecting the wealthy.

The announcement comes as Republicans have accused the White House of mixing official business with campaign politics. The Republican National Committee has filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Fixbits:

Obama tries to use the words of GOP members of Congress against their party.

The Club for Growth adds $421,000 to its ad buy in its campaign against Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), bringing its total investment in the race to $1.5 million.

Sen. Mark Pryor’s (D-Ark.) office is asking the FBI to investigate ”Girls Gone Wild.” The porn franchise offered an internship in Pryor’s office to the winner of their “Search for the Hottest Girl in America.”

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) says Democrats’ one mission in life is to “abort children.”

A new poll shows Ted Cruz has a good shot at earning a runoff with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas GOP Senate primary.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is going up with campaign ads.

Must-reads:

Cuomo Says White House Talk Is Premature” — Thomas Kaplan, New York Times

I Was Wrong About Dick Cheney...” — Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal

What Do Springtime Polls Tell Us About the General Election?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Mitt Romney’s Debt to Newt Gingrich” — Molly Ball, The Atlantic

Marco Rubio’s early political years reveal softer line on immigration” — Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

 
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