Dems who can't risk Obama visit welcome Clinton to campaign

Embattled Democrats are increasingly turning to former President Bill Clinton to prop up their campaigns in the final weeks before November's midterm elections.

The former president is far and away the biggest draw for the party less than a month out, hitting races in states where Democrats would rather President Obama stay away.

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With Obama's campaign schedule featuring recent stops in solidly Democratic states such as California, Delaware and Maryland, it's Clinton who is helping Democrats try to win over centrists and independents in states such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas.

The former president has planned stops in all three of those states next week, stumping for both House and Senate candidates. According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton is one of the most popular political figures in the country, winning approval from 55 percent of voters.

That number stands in stark contrast to President Obama, whose approval ratings in some battleground states continue to fall.

Perhaps nowhere is the popularity contrast between Clinton and Obama greater than in West Virginia, where Clinton on Monday will campaign for Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Manchin finds himself in an unexpectedly tight Senate race thanks in large part to a litany of attack ads tying the Democratic governor to Obama. Republican businessman John Raese leads Manchin by 6 points in the latest Rasmussen poll, which had the president's approval rating in the state below the 40 percent mark.

Raese has spent millions of his own money to hammer Manchin with TV ads labeling the popular governor "a rubber stamp" for Obama, and it's working. Raese has steadily eroded what was once a double-digit Manchin lead.

Ahead of Clinton's visit, Manchin is doing just about all he can to separate himself from the current president. In an interview on Fox News on Friday, Manchin called the president "dead wrong" when it comes to cap-and-trade, and earlier in the week, the state sued the EPA over new coal-mining regulations.

"President Clinton understands West Virginians and this is a great opportunity for me to continue to share my vision for West Virginia and how I will continue to stand up and fight for what is best for our state and nation," Manchin said in a statement Friday.

Raese's campaign hit back at Clinton's planned visit by pointing to an interview Manchin gave to MSNBC in which the governor said he didn't anticipate a campaign visit from Obama because, "I've never had people come and campaign for me."

Democratic congressional candidate Mike Oliverio will also be at Monday's Manchin-Clinton rally. Oliverio faces Republican David McKinley this fall after defeating Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) in a primary earlier this year.

In a statement Friday, Oliverio praised Clinton as the president who "presided during the last time our federal budget was under control and our economy was thriving." Oliverio's campaign also noted that he was among the first West Virginia legislators to back Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential bid.

Later Monday, Clinton will campaign for Democratic Senate nominee Jack Conway in Kentucky — a state in which Republicans have tried to make President Obama a central issue, too.

Republican Rand Paul has worked to tie Conway to Obama. His latest campaign ad features an Obama impersonator who says, "I know I can count on Conway to vote for more spending and debt, bigger government and higher taxes."

For Conway, the former president might be the only national Democratic figure who could help given the current political dynamic there. Clinton won the state of Kentucky twice, a feat for a Democratic presidential candidate. Then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also defeated Obama soundly in that state's Democratic primary in 2008.

The Paul campaign dismissed the visit from Clinton, labeling him "an out-of-state liberal" and offering to "pay for President Obama's plane ticket" to travel to Kentucky to rally for Conway.

Later in the week, Clinton will head to Arkansas for a joint rally with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and congressional candidate Chad Causey. Lincoln trails big in her race against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), but Causey's race for the seat of retiring Rep. Marion Berry is considered a toss-up.

"He's going to make a huge impact out here," said Arkansas Democratic Party spokesman Joel Coon, who noted that Clinton still has a tremendously strong base of popularity in states with a high concentration of conservative Democrats such as Arkansas.

"I don't think that's a reflection on our current elected officials in Washington," he said. "It's just that he has his own fan base out here, and it's strong."

Arkansas is one state where Clinton has already made a difference this election cycle, helping Lincoln best Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) in a tough Democratic primary. Another is Pennsylvania, where a last-minute Clinton visit for Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) helped him hold off Republican Tim Burns.

Clinton has already campaigned for Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) in Pennsylvania's Senate race, but embattled House Dems such as Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) are eager for the former president to make another pre-election swing through the state.

Kanjorski's website features video clips from a campaign speech Clinton gave for him just days before the 2008 election, which the incumbent won in a squeaker.

"We'd love to have fresh clips and a fresh appearance in 2010," admits Kanjorski consultant Ed Mitchell. "But we know the former president is very busy."

Clinton also has campaign appearances planned for former Gov. Jerry Brown in California and Rep. Kendrick Meek in Florida's Senate race.

Even though President Obama isn't likely to show up in some of the toughest 2010 battlegrounds during the campaign's final month, he is using his fundraising prowess across the country to help fill the coffers of the national party and Democratic candidates in contested races.

The president is also planning a campaign swing out West ahead of Election Day where he is expected to stump for Democrats in key Senate contests in California and Washington state.