Opinion

Bill Clinton hits his stride both inside and outside the beltway

Aaron Guerrero Contributor

Nothing quite compares to being the current occupant of the White House. The power. The prestige. The enchantment. The possibility of leaving office with a cherished legacy and the prospect of making history for all the right reasons.

But being a former president is a pretty good gig too, especially if you’re Bill Clinton.

When the Democratic nomination ended in June of 2008, the 42nd president had been left reeling. Forced to reflect upon whether he had played a key role in his wife’s defeat, and subjected to allegations that he, “the first black president,” had leveled attacks with an underlying racial tinge against then candidate Obama.

Indeed, during 2007 and 2008 the Big Dog looked as though he had lost a step or two. Out on the hustings he was rusty. And his gaffe prone ways left the impression that he was painfully unacquainted with the mechanics of a presidential campaign in the age of the 24/7 media and YouTube. By campaign’s end, Clinton’s decision to become a visible force for his wife’s presidential bid proved to have a damaging effect on his reputation, with his favorability rating dropping from 63 percent in early 2007 to 52 percent in August of 2008.

However with the presidential campaign long in the rearview, Clinton has steadily reminded us why he earned the moniker of “The Comeback Kid,” and why his legacy and reputation were never really in doubt.

A July Gallup poll had Clinton with a 61 percent favorable rating, an indicator that he’s restored his pre-2008 campaign popularity. Equally telling was his superior favorability to both his successors; Obama came in at 52 percent and Bush at 45 percent. Among independents, Clinton’s 60 percent favorability easily surpassed Obama’s 50 percent and Bush’s 37 percent.

Republicans even have a newfound appreciation for Clinton, viewing him in a more favorable light than Obama by a margin of 30 percent to 18 percent. You know you’re on a hot streak when the party that attempted to impeach you, and whom you accused of engaging in “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy,” shows some nostalgia for your presidential leadership.

Clinton’s up-tick in favorability has made his endorsement and presence a desirable commodity out on the campaign trail. Faced with a shortage of credible and game changing surrogates, Clinton is turning out to be a bright spot in what is otherwise shaping up to be a potentially disastrous year at the polls for the party as a whole.

The laws of demand and supply will likely limit Clinton’s physical appearances on the stump in the coming months. But for those fortunate enough to have him by their side, he has been a boost of the first degree.

In May, Clinton lent a hand to Democrat Mark Critz in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th District, helping turn a seat that once looked like a true toss-up into a healthy Democratic victory.

By June, he was channeling his presidential clout and home state roots to help centrist Democrat Blanche Lincoln win a senate runoff and defeat Lt. Gov Bill Halter and the left of the Democratic Party. The impact of Clinton’s endorsement will further be tested this month in both Florida and Colorado, where he has endorsed a pair of upstart senate wannabes.

For Democrats running in swing districts or statewide races in red and purple states, having Clinton take to the mic for their candidacies, rather than president Obama is the politically wise choice. Sure, Obama invites the usual perks of the presidential endorsement: money, national recognition, establishment support, etc. But with Clinton, they get all of those things too, but without the fear of opponents running attack ads defining them as nothing more than a rubberstamp for the Obama agenda.

As the prospect of Republicans seizing control of both chambers of congress in November becomes a real possibility, pundits within the beltway are already discussing how Obama can follow the post 1994 Clinton model, when he successfully dealt with a charged up Republican congress and cruised to reelection in 1996.

But it’s not just pundits who are advising such a strategy; even congressional Republicans are expressing hope that Obama does his best imitation of Clinton following the midterms.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that after the midterms president Obama would become a “born-again moderate.”

McConnell praised Clinton for passing welfare reform, balancing the federal budget and implementing a trade deal, and then noted, “As we all know, there’s some precedent. President Clinton started out pretty far on the left, and there was a mid-course correction.”

President Obama may not correct course, but Bill Clinton certainly has.

Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate, who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.