CLINTON AND OBAMA are strikingly opposite characters. "Bill Clinton is effusive," says Harpootlian, who has worked with both men. "He's a hugger. He's got an amazing memory for people names and places. He's got a Rolodex in his head, more in the mold of a southern politician — 'Hail, fellow, well met' but with a huge intellect. Barack on the other hand is cool, almost like hip cool, he walks into a room he radiates this Frank Sinatra coolness. You can't not sense him. It's infectious."
Obama is disciplined and cerebral; Clinton is, well, not.
That, says Josh Lockman, may be part of his appeal. As a millennial voter, Lockman, 30 and from Los Angeles, sees the Obama campaign, which he has worked with, as cold-eyed and focused on statistical analysis of voting patterns and microtargeting of constituencies.
"His campaign has taken almost a mathematical systematic statistical approach to appealing to key voting groups," Lockman said, "whether Latino Americans with immigration or young Americans with student loans or Jewish Americans on Israel and Iran."
That may be a winning strategy, he said, but it isn't always an inspiring one.
Clinton is often said to have the best political mind in the business. Obama's invite was in itself a kind of microtargeting at the biggest niche of voters, white guys. But Clinton's real strength is his ability to soar above the mechanics of politics, Lockman says, "dispensing with the microtargeting statistical approach and emphasizing the humanistic one."
Clinton is nothing if not human. One risk the Obama campaign is accepting is that Clinton will run over his time Wednesday night. It's more than possible, of course. This will be Clinton's seventh convention speech, and he has logged a total of nearly four hours at the rostrum. Nobody is certain precisely how many hours he was actually supposed to log.
Clinton has his own motives for delivering Wednesday evening. They're part of who he has always been. "Throughout his political career he was focused, some might say obsessed, with reweaving the coalition between minority voters and the white working class," said his former speechwriter, Michael Waldman. "He thought of it as repairing what was broken after Robert Kennedy's murder. He argued passionately that if Democrats talked about the shared values of opportunity, responsibility and community, they could win the votes of both inner-city blacks and suburban Reagan Democrats."
There is only one other recent ex-president who remains such a potent force in his party. He is to Republicans what Clinton is to Democrats. He redefined the party and reached toward the middle. He pulled in voters that his party needed. That's why, today, they call them Reagan Democrats.
Ronald Reagan, dead eight years, still managed to be a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention last week, appearing relentlessly in video after video. Mitt Romney sought to cloak himself in Reagan, to bask in the rays of an absent legend.
But when Barack Obama turns to his own party's political idol, he won't have to rely on digital smoke and big-screen mirrors. No tech will be required. The legend, Bill Clinton, will be standing right next to him.
Michael Oreskes, a veteran political reporter and editor, is senior managing editor for U.S. news at The Associated Press.
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