Bill Clinton: Does he help — or hurt — Barack Obama?

Bill Clinton takes to the Democratic convention podium — and the national network airwaves — to make the case for the re-election of President Barack Obama. Analysts say his speech could give Obama’s campaign a big boost. Or it could lay an Eastwood.

Here are some of the ways Clinton could help — or hurt — the Democratic incumbent:


Bill Clinton meets with reporters in Little Rock. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

♦ He’s popular. “He’s the successful Democratic president whose approval since leaving office has been and continues to be very high. They can rightly point to a time of I think of general prosperity and economic surplus,” said Paul Brace, Clarence L. Carter professor of political science or Rice University.

♦ He’s the premier Democratic communicator of the modern age. “I don’t know if there’s a better political mind alive today than Bill Clinton,” said Sean Theriault, associate government professor at the University of Texas. “This guy knows how to give a speech, he knows how to feel your pain.”

♦ He charges up the base. “Clinton is revered among many, many long term Democratic voters and people on the left,” said Nicholas Valentino, University of Michigan political science professor. “He is respected for his speaking abilities and has always been a highly energizing speaker.”

♦ His message resonates with swing voters. “Over the course of his own political career he demonstrated tremendous skill at successfully reaching out to swing voters,” said Dan Schnur, director of Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “If he can convince them that Obama is going to run his second term the same way that Clinton did then that’s a huge leg up for Obama’s reelection

♦ He has an enviable economic record. “When he left office, the stock market was going through the roof (and we had) a budget surplus,” Theriault said. “After eight years of George Bush we are in a far different place.”


♦ “You run the risk of being overshadowed by Bill Clinton,” said Brace. “People could walk away and say, ‘Obama is not Bill Clinton.’”

♦ He could go off-script. “Clinton’s speech hasn’t been vetted,” Brace said. “It’s not going to be like Clint Eastwood, but you always worry there might be a moment of Chris Christie.”

♦ Clinton presided over an economic boom. Obama hasn’t. “If voters’ don’t see a credible link between Obama and Clinton’s approaches to governance, then that’s a huge advantage for Romney,” said Schnur.

♦ The two men haven’t always gotten along. “I don’t think Barack Obama enjoyed asking him to play as big a role as he’s playing just because I think there’s a little bit of a rivalry there,” Theriault said.

This post was based on reporting by Summer Ballentine of the Hearst Newspapers Washington bureau.

Richard Dunham