Obama's Secret Weapon: Bill Clinton

Obama plans to use the popular former president to appeal to voters.

Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton before an event in McLean, Va.

Strategists for President Obama are confident that they have a powerful weapon to unleash this fall in the battle for working-class and middle-class voters: Bill Clinton.

Team Obama's partnership with Clinton this week was a prime example of how he will be deployed for the rest of the campaign to certify Obama as an advocate for everyday Americans. When Republican candidate Mitt Romney began attacking Obama over welfare issues, Clinton jumped into the fray to defend Obama and deride Romney.

[Welfare the Latest Wedge in Presidential Race]

Clinton has special credibility, Obama advisers say, because he developed a connection with "middle America" and was widely viewed as a centrist who presided over a healthy economy during his eight years in the White House.

So he sought to reassure the voter bloc this week that Obama isn't trying to return welfare to a giveaway system that would take more of their money. Specifically, Clinton said Romney was wrong to claim that Obama wants to move the welfare system away from requiring work by recipients. What the administration is doing, Clinton said, is not to ease the work requirement but to give states more flexibility in administering the welfare-reform law, which passed in 1996 while Clinton was president.

Polls show that Clinton is as popular as he has ever been since leaving office. Nearly 70 percent of Americans view Clinton favorably, according to the Gallup Poll. Obama's favorable rating is only 53 per cent, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll. Romney's favorability rating is 40.

[Study of Census Data Finds a Segregated America Especially for Blacks]

"There is probably no politician who is more popular with blue-collar whites than Bill Clinton right now," Democratic pollster Geoff Garin says. "Clinton seems totally connected to their lives."

And this is a demographic group that has been deeply skeptical about Obama. That's one reason why Clinton has been enlisted to formally nominate Obama at the Democratic National Convention during the first week in September.

Republicans also seem suddenly enamored of Clinton as they attempt to make Obama look extreme by comparison.

"Clinton was trying to move the (Democratic) party to the center," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters Wednesday. "Obama is trying to move it to the left." 

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 for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

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