Former President Bill Clinton warned Monday that a Mitt Romney presidency would be "calamitous" for the nation and the world, going further than even President Barack Obama in depicting the consequences of a return to Republican rule of the White House.
With Obama standing thoughtfully to one side, Clinton slammed Romney by name, an apparent rebuttal to his own comments last week that were widely seen as flattering to Romney's background in business.
Clinton said Obama had earned a second term because of his steering of the economy through a "miserable situation" and "the alternative would be, in my opinion, calamitous for our country and the world."
Clinton's take came as he helped raise at least $3.6 million for Obama at three New York fundraisers. The two have patched over a personal rift from the 2008 campaign when Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in a bitter Democratic primary. But Clinton caused some heartburn in Obama's campaign last week by remarking that Romney had a "sterling" business record — an assertion that undercut Democrats' criticism of Romney's decisions at the private equity firm Bain Capital.
Clinton also said at the fundraiser that Republicans and Romney have adopted Europe's economic policies. "Who would have ever thought that the Republicans who made a living for decades deriding Old Europe would embrace their economic policies," he said.
For his part, Obama said the economy had been difficult for so many voters that some could reach the point that "you're willing to try just about anything, even if you've seen it before."
Obama told donors that he was seeking re-election against a different Republican Party. "They have run from a preference for market-based solutions to an absolutism when it comes to the marketplace, a belief that all regulations are bad, that government has no role to play," he said.
Clinton's larger point in the interview last week was that Obama is the better choice to steer the economy, and the White House denied that Clinton "made news." Still, the televised remark gave Republicans campaign gold just as the government released a disappointing report saying the United States created far fewer new jobs in May than expected — a big political blow for Obama.
Obama and Clinton also are on opposite sides of a close Democratic congressional primary contest in New Jersey. Clinton also campaigned last week for Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett. Barrett faces Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a special recall election contest on Tuesday but has seen little backing from the Democratic Party or Obama.
Still, Clinton's ability to deliver campaign dollars and his record as a sound campaign strategist make him an asset to the Obama campaign that apparently outweighs any drawbacks.
Obama campaign bundler and billionaire investor Marc Lasry held an exclusive reception Monday night, followed by a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The evening was to conclude with an event dubbed "Barack on Broadway" at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Obama will return to Manhattan next week for a fundraiser at the home of "Sex and the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker.
Clinton and Obama were focusing their message Monday on economic opportunity. Polls show that economic trends are likely to determine the election, a development that could help Romney if the economy sags significantly. Obama and Romney were tied at 46 percent in Gallup polling last week of national election preferences.
Obama's campaign released a video of campaign manager Jim Messina urging supporters to "stay focused, work hard and ignore the ups and downs." The campaign included a map listing eight undecided states: Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Florida.
Clinton recently predicted for CNN an Obama victory in November by 5 or 6 percentage points, with the economy the determining factor. The interview also revisited the two men's different characterizations of Romney's record running Bain Capital, and the role of super-rich private investors. Clinton said such firms can do "good work" and should not be demonized across the board. He also said Romney had had a good business career.
"The real issue ought to be, what has Gov. Romney advocated in the campaign that he will do as president? What has President Obama done and what does he propose to do? How do these things stack up against each other?" Clinton said. "That's the most relevant thing."
Romney's campaign sought to exploit the differences, circulating Clinton's comments from a December 2007 interview on PBS in which he suggested that electing Obama would carry some risks. "When is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?" Clinton said.
Lasry, head of the hedge fund Avenue Capital, told CNBC last week that private capital investment as practiced by Bain Capital can do worthwhile things. He shrugged off as "politics" Obama's recent references to investment choices he claims have ravaged jobs for the sake of investors' profits.
About 50 people attended the $40,000-per-ticket reception at Lasry's home. Tickets to a 500-person gala at the Waldorf-Astoria began at $2,500. Those who contribute $35,800 or raise $100,000 get access to a smaller reception with Obama.
The concert at the New Amsterdam Theater was expected to draw 1,700 people. Tickets for that event started at $250, the Obama campaign said.
Three winners of an online ticket contest were attending both the gala and concert and were expected to meet Obama and Clinton.
Monday night was not the first joint fundraising appearance by Obama and Clinton. The two appeared together and addressed supporters in late April at the Virginia home of Clinton adviser Terry McAuliffe.