Behind the decision to give former President Bill Clinton a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention is the belief by President Barack Obama's strategists that his Democratic predecessor can help validate Obama's policies and boost his chances of winning in November.
Clinton has agreed to formally nominate Obama for a second term and defend Obama's economic record, party sources say. Beyond this, Clinton is expected to campaign vigorously across the country and raise money for Obama through Election Day.
The deployment of Clinton is designed to accomplish three goals: shore up support within the Democratic party, where Clinton is very popular; increase backing among independent and swing voters who will be crucial to victory; and inject some excitement into a convention where nothing surprising is expected to happen. Clinton is one of the Democratic party's most sought-after speakers. Many voters remember the Clinton years as a time of prosperity and relative peace and have put Clinton's character problems in a lesser category. He was impeached by the House for lying about his affair with a White House intern and was acquitted by the Senate.
Clinton is scheduled to speak on September 5, the night before Obama formally accepts his party's nomination in Charlotte, N.C. Vice President Joe Biden is to speak immediately before Obama on September 6.
Obama aides expressed delight at the speaking arrangement with Clinton. "There isn't anybody on the planet who has a greater perspective on not just the last four years, but the last two decades," Obama strategist David Axelrod told the New York Times. "He can really articulate the choice that is before people."
The current love-fest between Obama and Clinton didn't always exist.
In 2008, Clinton was highly critical of what he called Obama's lack of experience and his policies when compared to Hillary Clinton, the former president's wife who was also running for the Democratic presidential nomination. She lost to Obama but is now Obama's secretary of state.
There have been some rocky moments in recent months. Former President Clinton, for example, supported the short-term extension of tax cuts for the wealthy that Obama opposed. Clinton later withdrew that support and backed Obama's approach of permanently raising taxes on the rich and maintaining tax cuts for the middle class.
But the main reason for Clinton's high profile is clear. His approval rating with the public is 66 per cent, the highest of all the living ex-presidents and far better than the 43 percent of George W. Bush, the most recent GOP president, according to a CNN/ORC poll. Obama's approval rating has been hovering below 50 percent.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.
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