By his own count, former President Bill Clinton had already headlined some 80 event
s for embattled Democrats by the time he blew into New Mexico on Oct. 14 to stump for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who trails Republican prosecutor Susana Martinez in the governor's race.
And judging from all the speech-making, hand-shaking, fund-raising and photo-opping aimed at averting a Nov. 2 nationwide bloodbath, Clinton could easily break the 100-event mark by next weekend. What is clear from all these public rallies and closed-door schmooze-fests for campaign contributors is that he seems more like a hyped-up candidate than a former chief executive.
See the cheerleader-in-chief jet in and out of red, blue and purple states hoping to rescue his party from a wipeout that might just echo the 1994 midterm elections two years into his own eight-year presidency. That's when the so-called "Republican Revolution"
gave the GOP control of the House and Senate for the first time in four decades. The tables turned again in 2006, when Democrats wrested back both chambers during the second term of George W. Bush.
Today's dismal economy, home foreclosure rate, protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, growing Tea Party clout and the millions of dollars pouring into races from special-interest groups and their anonymous contributors all threaten Democratic majorities in both chambers, not to in mention in governors' mansions and state legislatures countrywide.
And so Clinton -- who never saw a rope line he didn't want to work and who has been called everything from a "rock star" to the "Big Dog" in recent news reports -- has hit the road with a vengeance. To be fair, so have the current president, the first lady, the vice president and other party heavyweights. But the results of a Gallup Poll
released Tuesday morning show that Bill Clinton may be having a more positive impact for Democrats than Barack Obama.
Some say Clinton is just being a good party man, using his enduring popularity to help his party, even it boosts Democratic candidates he doesn't particularly care for
. Some say he can't live without the limelight. Others suggest he is collecting favors should his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton,
mount an encore White House run in 2016, or even 2012. To hear him tell it, he is repaying those who backed her against Obama in the 2008 primaries.
"I planned to do about one stop for everybody that helped Hillary run for president because she's one of only two members of the president's Cabinet who cannot participate in politics," he said in Espanola, N.M. Clinton also said he "didn't want it on my conscience" if he failed to energize dispirited Democrats, including those running away from such unpopular Obama policies as health care reform, Wall Street bailouts and cap-and-trade legislation.
Indeed, on Monday night, he campaigned in Denver for Sen. Michael Bennet, an Obama supporter who defeated Democrat Andrew Romanoff, Clinton's primary favorite and a Hillary partisan.
While the senator's folks discreetly made no mention of the switched allegiances, Republican Ken Buck's camp dissed the visit
in the Denver Post. "It's not surprising that a VIP is coming to help Sen. Bennet's flailing campaign. But what is surprising is that it's former President Bill Clinton, not President Obama. For the past two years, Sen. Bennet has been a rubber stamp for Obama, voting for Obamacare, the stimulus package and over $3 trillion in new debt."
Clinton has been dispatched far and wide because he's just so good at what he does, said former Obama campaign official Larry Grisolano, now a partner in AKPD Message and Media
in Chicago, founded by Obama intimate and senior adviser David Axelrod.
Obama on the Campaign Trail: Are Democrats Better Off with Bill Clinton?
"Bill Clinton has an extraordinary gift for explaining his point of view in incredibly persuasive terms.
He's in a class by himself. He has completely different appeal than President Obama, who has a gift for kind of tapping into people's hopes and idealism," Grisolano said. "Clinton's approach is more about how to slice an issue, to carve out the biggest part of the electorate."
All true, noted Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and fervent loyalist to both Clintons, citing the former president's "touch that's empathetic, a very common-sense way of expressing himself coupled with great magnetism. He is the most popular and effective campaigner in the Democratic Party, including the president."
But Davis could not resist pointing out "a high degree of irony" in Clinton's saturation deployment to help Obama retain House and Senate majorities. "Remember, the Obama campaign, quite unfairly, leveled the outrageous charge that Bill Clinton was insensitive to minorities. The Obama campaign ran with that when President Clinton was supporting his wife. Back then and today he is the same Bill Clinton, so you see the irony of his campaigning out there."
So how effective are stand-ins, even those as high-wattage as Clinton?
"I am always suspicious of the clout of surrogates," said Roy Neel, once a top aide to Clinton and to Vice President Al Gore who now head's the former veep's climate change projects in Nashville. "They can generate a crowd, sure, but their effect is unclear and untested. If President Clinton can turn out thousands of people, it shows enthusiasm, and especially in a midterm like this, they will vote your way if
they vote. Swing voters or independents generally want to see the actual candidate they are to vote for. His presence could possibly make a difference, so I think it's a smart play to have him out there."
Democrats may thrill to his oratorical charms, but Republicans aren't buying the hype. In his latest swing through Arkansas, Clinton laced into George W. Bush political guru Karl Rove
(although not Bush himself), but he did little to move the needle in a state -- Clinton's homestate -- where the GOP appears poised for a good day on Nov. 2. At the University of Kentucky, after Clinton addressed a throng of 5,000 on Oct. 11 to boost the Senate run by Attorney General Jack Conway, rival Rand Paul wasted little time blasting the former president
at a campaign event of his own.
"I'm not sure I would trust a guy who had had sexual relations with an intern. I mean, do you think he's an honorable person?" Paul asked during an appearance in Shelbyville. "I think that's disgusting. It gets to the point where we discount what he says." Paul was, of course, referring to Clinton's involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which ultimately led to his Congressional impeachment and acquittal.
Democratic political consultant and commentator Robert Shrum called the Lewinsky scandal a non-starter for those who dislike the still-popular Clinton. "The country is way past that. In fact the country was disgusted with it back then and wanted their leaders to focus on things that really mattered."
Or as Davis said: "It's utterly incomprehensible to me that that private failure or mistake can be brought up without adding another sentence: When he left office, having endured this horrible, painful embarrassing episode, he had a 65 percent job approval rating, which was unprecedented."
On his Southwest swing, Clinton also hit Nevada
, to spread the love for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, now fighting for his political life against surprise Republican nominee Sharron Angle, who that very day announced she'd raised a whopping $14 million. The Clinton rally "played out like a rock concert," the Las Vegas Sun reported. "Supporters waved Reid signs as a mariachi band played. A DJ dedicated the MC Hammer song "U Can't Touch This" to Angle. Three Los Angeles Lakers -- Ron Artest, Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks -- stood on stage to cheer on Reid."
Big deal, was the basic reaction from Jahan Wilcox, the Nevada Republican Party spokesman. "Other than a nice photo-op, it won't change the fact that Senator Reid's failed policies have made Nevada the leader in unemployment and the foreclosure capital of the country."
Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Clinton heads to Orlando and St. Petersburg to boost Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer now running for governor against billionaire Republican Rick Scott, and to help Rep. Kendrick Meek, a distant third in the Senate race behind Republican former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is competing as an independent. The following day Clinton will headline a Baltimore rally for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley,
who faces a challenge by GOP former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whom he beat four years ago.
But it's not just Clinton's star power in front of thousands that quickens the pulse of candidates locked in tight races. It's his allure at comparatively intimate fundraisers, where Clinton can make every single attendee feel like the only person in the room when he locks their eyes into his laser-gaze, or regales the check-writers with political war stories in that signature Arkansas drawl.
Although campaign aides will not say how much money was collected at an Oct. 10 fundraiser at a hip Washington restaurant, Rep. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. of Maryland -- considered one of the nation's most vulnerable freshmen -- called his event a great success because of the guest of honor. "I think people enjoy hearing him talk, particularly with his being out of office. He spoke quite freely and people are attracted to that," Kratovil told me.
So, clearly, is Bill Clinton, who one suspects is addicted to adulation.
"He lives for it," Grisolano said simply.