Republican Mitt Romney has millionaire backers, a huge staff and years of campaign experience, which may be enough to win the White House. President Barack Obama has one asset Romney can't match, however: Bill Clinton.
The former president is sprinting through battleground states, delivering more speeches than Obama himself and, arguably, carrying much of the president's re-election hopes on his 66-year-old shoulders.
There's nothing secret about this campaign weapon. If it's a competitive state, Clinton is there — and there and there — picking apart Romney's proposals in the folksy yet detailed style he unleashed at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. Many party activists left there wondering why Obama can't make his own case as compellingly.
Romney had hoped to lock down the mega-swing state long ago. But he will return Monday because of its uncertainty.
"I don't understand how people like me could sleep at night taking another tax cut, and taking it away from you," he said to cheers from several hundred people, who clearly did not resent his post-presidential wealth.
After shucking his suit jacket and loosening his orange tie under a brilliant midday sun, Clinton rattled off statistics about recent slowdowns in the growth of health care costs, and benefits of Obama's health law. "That is what Mr. Romney wants to repeal," he said.
"Bring it home, Bill" a woman shouted.
At every stop, Clinton praises Obama effusively, but he also reminds voters of his own days in office.
"I am the only living former president that ever gave you a budget surplus," he said in Palm Bay. Obama's policies, he adds, are much more in line with his than are Romney's.
Obama amplifies Clinton's boasts, knowing they give credence to the endorsements. In one Ohio stop Friday, Obama named Clinton four times.
"For eight years we had a president who shared our beliefs, and his name was Bill Clinton," Obama said. "His economic plan asked the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so we could reduce our deficit and invest in the skills and ideas of our people." Romney opposed that plan, Obama said, and his math "was just as bad back then as it was today."
The white-haired Clinton looks drawn and tired at times, and he makes a few flubs. He apologized this week for saluting Pennsylvania when he happened to be in Ohio.
In Green Bay, Wis., Clinton gave a 57-minute dissertation on why the economy is better than many think. The only reason the Obama-Romney race is close, he said, "is because Americans are impatient on things not made before yesterday, and they don't understand why the economy is not totally hunky-dory again."
He will join Obama on Saturday for a rally in Virginia and on Sunday morning for an event in New Hampshire. Clinton also will campaign Sunday in North Carolina and Minnesota. And on Monday, the Obama camp hopes Clinton will snuff out any possible Romney eruption in Pennsylvania, scheduling stops for him in Pittsburgh and Scranton, plus two in Philadelphia.
No state underscores Clinton's value more than Florida, where the Republican Bush family looms large. While Obama makes every possible use of his party's most recent president, Romney can hardly mention George W. Bush, who left office amid an economic collapse and an unpopular war in Iraq.
Romney campaigned Thursday in Tampa, however, with Bush's brother Jeb, a former Florida governor who remains widely popular.
Much has been made of Clinton's once-frosty relationship with Obama. Clinton, among other things, in 2008 called Obama's history of opposing the Iraq war a "fairy tale."
The two men may never be chums. But Clinton's endorsements now seem full-throated. It delights Democratic loyalists.
"The Republicans have nothing to match the personal appeal and persuasive power of President Clinton," said Doug Hattaway, a consultant with close ties to the Clintons. "He can energize Democrats and close the deal with moderate swing voters."
Bruce Marvin, who attended Clinton's event in Chillicothe, Ohio, said the ex-president explains Obama's plans even more understandably than does the nominee.
"I think it's backing up what Obama may not have been able to get across," Marvin said.