CHARLOTTE – Bill without Hill? That’s the plan for the first week in September in Charlotte, when Democrats hold their 2012 convention.
“Given her current position, she will not be attending, consistent with her not engaging in any political activity whatsoever,” the secretary of state’s spokesman told the Charlotte Observer. Hillary Clinton hasn’t missed a Democratic National Convention in years, “possibly all the way back to ’68 in Chicago,” the spokesman said. (The no-show attorney general and secretary of defense are also above the partisan politics so essential to the naming of a party’s presidential nominee.)
Bill Clinton, however, plans to attend. And is sure to be a star.
Having the former president as a stand-in might be a pretty good idea for the busy secretary of state. Her protestations aside, many Clinton supporters haven’t given up on a 2016 Hillary for President run (or even a surprise vice presidential switcheroo in 2012). Bill Clinton – her No. 1 fan – has no doubt learned from his Carolinas campaigning four years ago, when his efforts received mixed reviews. The memories can be painful.
Before the early South Carolina primary, I remember enthusiastic crowds loving Bill Clinton as much as he loved being the center of attention but wondering exactly what his role might be in a Hillary Clinton White House. Then-rival candidate Barack Obama exploited the general unease with musings in a Myrtle Beach debate that resembled a smack down (“I can’t tell who I'm running against sometimes,” Obama said.)
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton’s testy responses when pushed on his criticisms of Obama caused that sky-high popularity and his wife’s presidential campaign to falter.
By the time North Carolina’s deciding 2008 primary rolled around, he had settled into his surrogate niche, touring the small towns and stopping to smell the barbecue. But Obama won the state, the nomination and the presidency.
These days, Bill Clinton, the good Democrat, can be seen in a cameo of the 17-minute-long Obama campaign’s “Road We’ve Traveled,” praising the Obama decision on the mission that killed Osama bin Laden (“I hope that’s the call I would have made”). He’s joining with the president this month for a fundraiser at the McLean home of former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
The South is familiar territory. Charlotte’s expansive mix of high art and NASCAR should suit someone at home in Arkansas, New York and Washington. The “meat and three” palaces Northeastern media types can’t resist highlighting – and there are some great ones – now take a back seat to more ambitious menus able to satisfy the reformed omnivore’s vegan diet.
It’s not as though he’ll be alone. Even without Hillary at his side, he’ll have plenty of company — his own secretary of state, for instance. (What did you think I was going to say?)
Among the expected 35,000 delegates, media and other assorted visitors, Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, through her National Democratic Institute, will be presiding over programs for foreign leaders and diplomats and a museum exhibition of her famous, diplomatically inclined pins. Albright, the first female secretary of state. blazed the path for his wife, which brings everything full circle.
Though Charlotte won’t see Hillary Clinton this September, Bill Clinton — and his formidable presence — will remind party players that this preeminent Democratic power couple is still very much in the game.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at the New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3