On the dais again, it's the other Clinton
The former president has been mostly an asset in his wife's presidential campaign, but some top Democrats are starting to issue warnings in the media.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The former president carries a full slate of campaign appearances, helps set strategy, and commands the media's attention with every utterance. Or perhaps the more apt analogy, as Clinton stumps vigorously for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is that he's running for vice president, a job that often entails going negative.
For more than two weeks, Bill has been playing the bad cop to Hillary's good cop, aggressively going after her top opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, on his record, his assertions, and his experience. By the time Monday's debate rolled around in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the tensions burst into the open.
"I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes," Senator Obama retorted in apparent exasperation over being double-teamed by the Clintons.
On the eve of crucial primaries that could determine who wins the Democratic nomination, a big question looms: Is the outsize role former President Clinton is playing in his wife's presidential campaign a smart strategy?
For now, political analysts are not willing to bet against the Clintons, smart tacticians who clawed back from the brink of political extinction in 1992 and won an improbable presidential victory.
But now that the klieg lights are on – and top Democrats, both black and white, are beginning to issue warnings in the media – the Clintons are on notice not to go too far. Given the racial dimension of their battle, going after the first viable black presidential candidate in history, they are on dangerous turf. African-Americans represent a critical piece of the Democratic coalition, and if Senator Clinton is the nominee, she will need them to turn out for her in November.
"The Clinton people need to blink hard twice and think about this," says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "My sense is that Bill has been an asset, but people are watching him very closely now, and reservations are building."
Still, Mr. Jillson adds, "Bill Clinton is a very sophisticated player and he knows he's near the line and that if he goes over the line it could cause real problems."
So far, the Clinton team has concluded, the former president’s presence on his wife’s campaign has been a plus. And since he began ramping up his rhetoric, she won in New Hampshire and Nevada. In the New Hampshire primary exit poll, 83 percent of Democratic voters had a positive view of former President Clinton, and among that group, Senator Clinton beat Obama by 10 points (while in the overall vote, she beat Obama by just 2 points).