There was always intermingling, never a clean divide between Clinton people and Obama people, and enough Clinton aides who went on to work for Obama were in Little Rock for the critique to get back to Washington. A month later, a delegation of Obama campaign advisers and pollsters led by Axelrod made a pilgrimage to Clinton’s Harlem headquarters to get his take on the campaign. They brought their polling data and computer models and laid out the information for him on Nov. 11, describing what they were learning about the voters, all the intimate details of what they intended to do, and asked for his advice. He told them to forget about attacking Romney as a flip-flopper. That would backfire, he warned, and give comfort to swing voters who wanted to dump Obama.
“They treated him like the political genius that he is, and he loved that,” one associate said. “This was great. You reach out to him and he becomes invested in the cause.”
As the contest clarified months ago, with Romney the obvious Republican choice, Clinton’s investment became more apparent. McAuliffe arranged for Clinton and Obama to appear as a tag team at a fundraiser at his sprawling home in Northern Virginia. The event on April 29 drew about 650 people and raised $3 million, but perhaps as important, it offered Clinton and Obama another opportunity to bond. At one point during the evening, between a larger reception and a smaller dinner for bigger donors, they spent about an hour in McAuliffe’s dining room, just the two of them and their host, talking about politics and sports. “They were on the same wavelength,” McAuliffe recalled. “You could feel the warmth.”
When they went out to face the audience, they sat on stools next to each other, two tall lefties acting like old buddies. “My job is to introduce the president,” Clinton began, in what seemed like part tutorial for Obama, part early iteration of what he would say on Wednesday. “I’m going to tell you a couple of things I hope you’ll remember and share with others. When you become president, your job is to explain where we are, say where you think we should go, have a strategy to get there and execute it. By that standard, Barack Obama deserves to be reelected president of the United States. And I’m going to tell you the only reason we’re even meeting here. I mean, this is crazy — he’s got an opponent who basically wants to do what they did before, on steroids — which will get you the same consequences we got before, on steroids.”
When the event ended, Obama and his entourage headed toward the driveway. Clinton was still in the tent, chatting with guests. “You couldn’t get him out of there,” said McAuliffe, who had to go back to tell Clinton that the president was leaving and that he might want to say goodbye.
On Wednesday night, Clinton will say hello again to his party and a vast television audience. He is supposed to get 20 minutes, including applause. The Obama team likes the odds of his making the case, if not meeting the deadline.