In an environment in which Democrats all over the country are fighting for their political survival, approval ratings are low and the party is at risk of losing its grip on Congress, two high-profile Democrats are thriving – Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The comeback couple is looking good these days. A recent Bloomberg survey that measured the popularity of several politicians showed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead with a favorability rating of 64 percent. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, was not listed in the Bloomberg survey but a separate Gallup poll this week shows that he is a bigger asset to Democrats than President Obama.
That is a significant contrast from the 2008 primaries, when both Clintons had lower-than-average ratings. In April 2008, Hillary Clinton had a 55 percent unfavorable rating among registered voters, according to an August 2008 Washington Post-ABC poll. Bill Clinton, who was chastised for several comments he made on the campaign trail, held a 47-point favorable rating among registered voters in April 2008 , just 10 points above his worst rating as a sitting President.
Now, however, the couple is riding high again.
Plenty of attention has been given to Bill Clinton’s impressive and relentless campaigning for Democratic candidates and polls show what most people already know: The former president can go places, and perform tricks, that Obama – or any politician – can’t.
Bill Clinton has campaigned for more than 65 candidates at nearly 100 events in an effort to get out the vote, according to the Associated Press.
While both the current and former president are crisscrossing the country to try to give candidates a boost – Obama is currently campaigning on the West coast – the Gallup poll released this week shows that Clinton’s effectiveness is much greater among supporters of both parties and independents.
The ex-president understands “how normal ‘walking-around’ folks are feeling,” Paul Begala, a confidante and former top strategist, told The Washington Post. “Both the right and the left have mocked that I-feel-your-pain empathy, but Americans have always liked it. It’s the core of him, even more than the brain. It’s real.”
Part of Clinton’s appeal might be the country’s love for all things antique, especially presidents.
“All [Clinton is] doing is energizing the base,” said professor Stephen Wayne, the American Government Field Chair at Georgetown University. “The Democratic base has fond memories of the Clintons and he was a very partisan president which made him popular within his own party and at the same time unpopular in the opposition.”
Wayne noted that Truman was very unpopular during while in office and even during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, but that all changed with time. The same is true for Jimmy Carter who Wayne said was polling very well during Clinton’s worst years of approval ratings.
“You remember that they were president and you think of them fondly and you don’t think of all the things they did or that happened that you didn’t like,” said Wayne. “So the partisan people like Truman and Clinton are remembered fondly by the partisans.”
However, several Republicans who worked with Clinton in the past have come out recently to reminisce about that time and point out that he was a much more pragmatic leader than they perceive Obama to be.
The other half of the power couple, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is seeing her own popularity rise during this campaign season.
Heritage Vice President for Government Relations Michael Franc said the reason for this sudden popularity is perspective. Like President Clinton during his last years in office, the Secretary of State has been working as a Democratic-centrists said Franc. While that has always been where she was on the political spectrum, it now shows more clearly because of the current administration’s shift to the left.
“With the ascent of Obama and his appointees, his style of governing, the ascent of Reid and Pelosi and their coalitions, the ideological center of gravity has moved dramatically toward the left,” said Franc.
“So someone like Clinton, who is where she’s always been, now looks like the center. … People are getting a taste of what a real liberal radical agenda looks like and they don’t really associate her with that,” Franc added.
Hillary Clinton’s high favorables are one of the reasons why rumors surfaced this month that she might be called upon to help out her former rival Barack Obama by replacing Vice President Joe Biden on the 2012 ballots. While all sides quickly sought to quash the chatter, the fact that some people would like to see her on the ticket is a testament to her popularity.
While even seasoned Democrats are in trouble this election cycle, the Clinton name, which will not appear on any ballot, seems unaffected by the problems their party have. It also shows that this isn’t the Clinton’s first rodeo. The couple has endured many up and downs in their political careers.
“The one thing that has positioned [the Clintons] where they are today is experience, the incredible reservoir of experience they have in local politics and generational politics,” said Republican strategist Kevin Madden. “They’ve been fully weatherized for all the elements of politics.”
It is that political savvy that makes some question whether Bill Clinton’s relentless campaigning has reasons that go beyond helping Democrats hold on to control in Congress.
“My suspicion in his campaigning, he’s building up Hillary’s rolodex,” said Franc. “They’re getting a lot of commitments, political debts that can be redeemed sometime in the future. ”
“I don’t think these are random acts,” he added. “They’re a very political shrewd couple and still seem to be Clinton Inc.”