Seeking to avoid the indignity of being a one-term president, Barack Obama has quietly reached out to a Democrat who knows how to win elections – popular former President Bill Clinton.
Top Obama campaign aides, including David Axelrod, flew from campaign offices in Chicago and Washington to meet with Clinton at the William J. Clinton Foundation offices in Harlem last week. The two-hour meeting, called by the Obama team, also included Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, pollster Joel Benenson, and Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democrat National Committee.
"We were the ones who reached out for the conversation," one of the participants from the Obama campaign told The National Memo’s Joe Conason,
who first broke the story. "We did so to lay out the landscape for the [former] president as we see it, but our particular interest was to receive his insights, and we were fortunate enough to benefit from them."
The meeting is a far cry from 2008 when then Sen. Hillary Clinton, aided by her husband, battled Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. The campaign was hard-fought to say the least and marked by tough attack ads and harsh comments.
“The Obama team wants Bill Clinton on the reservation, actively helping them,” University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato said of the meeting.
“Clinton has the potential to cause real problems if he believes he's on the outside looking in. He expects and wants to be involved, with appropriate deference, even though his relations with Obama have been shaky at best.”
Nonetheless, Clinton, known as “The Comeback Kid,” is an ideal choice to help Obama, whose reelection campaign faces a headwind of a poor economy, low approval ratings and a Republican controlled House of Representatives.
Clinton went into his 1996 reelection bid after the GOP won control of the House and Senate in midterm elections and having struggled with low approval ratings. However, Clinton oversaw a booming economy during his White House years and the country had a budget surplus for the first time since 1969. The unemployment rate when he took office was over 7 percent, but it was down to just over 5 percent during his reelection bid and was at 4 percent when he left office.
The unemployment rate is currently hovering around 9 percent and the budget imbalance is not just astronomical but has forced crisis after crisis as the White House and Congress have fought over how to deal with it.
On the meeting agenda in Harlem was a host of items including the economy, polling data, focus groups, campaign strategy, the battleground states of Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia, and possible GOP nominees.
According to The National Memo, Clinton quizzed Obama’s campaign aides and offered suggestions on how to handle the myriad of issues standing in the way of the president’s reelection.
“What most interested the Obama team were Clinton's insights on heartland voting blocs that remain in the political middle: not the Republican-leaning independents who always end up voting for the GOP nominee, but the truly uncommitted who largely ended up supporting Obama in 2008,” the Memo reported.
The bottom line, according to the Memo, is that team Obama wants Clinton actively engaged in the reelection efforts and will meet with him again.
“There is no one better in American politics in understanding underlying voter trends and the essence of a presidential election,” Sabato said. “There's a reason why Clinton is the only Democrat since FDR to be reelected.”
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