Clinton seen helping Kerry turn out his voters
The Democratic Party's most powerful weapon is heading back into battle.
Former President Bill Clinton, considered his party's biggest draw by friend and foe alike, hits the campaign trail with presidential candidate John Kerry on Monday in what observers see as a potent boost for the Massachusetts senator.
"It can only be a plus," said Republican strategist Roger Stone, who called Clinton's absence after his September heart surgery "potentially devastating" for Kerry.
Clinton, who in a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer called himself a "foot soldier" in the Kerry campaign to unseat Republican President Bush, has been recuperating at home in New York since undergoing quadruple bypass surgery on Sept. 6.
The 58-year-old former president, who remains a popular figure among Democrats and a fruitful fund-raiser, is set to join Kerry at a large rally in Philadelphia.
Clinton's value lies especially in his appeal to the Democratic base, such as black voters, in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, experts agree.
"At this stage, it's unlikely he's going to convince anybody who is for Bush to switch, but he can energize people who are Democratic voters and make sure they come out to vote, and if they're a little leery of Kerry, they'll think, 'Oh, OK. He's OK,"' said Democratic consultant Jerry Skurnik.
Poll after poll shows the two candidates neck and neck in the final stretch before the Nov. 2 election.
Clinton could also appeal to the undecided, added Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist. "He may help move undecided voters by reminding them that under Clinton, a Democrat, the economy was good and the nation was at peace," he said.
Clinton's appearance for Kerry would prove a marked change from the race for the White House by Democrat Al Gore four years ago. In 2000, the former vice president distanced himself from the scandal-tarred Clinton presidency.
Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was criticized by Republicans as bringing dishonor to the presidency and Clinton is seen by some as a polarizing figure without the type of cross-party appeal that another enormously popular president, the late Republican Ronald Reagan, enjoyed to attract so-called Reagan Democrats.
"There's no such thing as a Clinton Republican, at least outside of a schizophrenic clinic," said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield, who was a spokesman for Bob Dole's losing presidential bid against Clinton in 1996.
Clinton's help for Kerry could be significant in a close race, said Skurnik.
"If Kerry ends up winning by 5 or 10 points or losing by 10 points, then no one's going to care whether or not President Clinton campaigned. But if it's like 2000, it could be significant," he said.
Warfield said time has already taken its toll on Clinton's clout. "I think Clinton's becoming a little irrelevant."
And appealing to the Democratic base only accomplishes so much, he added. "If Kerry doesn't have those tied up by now, then he's hopeless anyway."