Now Romney has to face Bill Clinton, too

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney isn’t just running against President Obama during this election cycle, he’s campaigning against Bill Clinton, too.

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Obama’s strongest surrogate on the campaign trail has proven to be Clinton, who has been able to crystallize the president's vision and hammer home his last four years in bite-sized, practical ways for the electorate.

Clinton’s rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month is credited with moving what had been a razor-tight race firmly in Obama’s direction, providing the president with a much-needed bounce heading into the final stretch of the campaign.

The former president’s performance won praise from strategists and observers – and even from Romney himself. Obama has taken to recycling Clinton’s line that the GOP nominee’s “arithmetic” doesn’t add up in almost every stump speech since the convention.

Appearing on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ on Friday, longtime Clinton adversary and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the ex-president “the best political figure in terms of skill since Ronald Reagan,” praising the former president’s speech at the convention.

And Obama, in the coming days, will continue to capitalize on what strategists have coined the “Clinton bump” as he campaigns alongside the former president at a fundraiser in Los Angeles next week. The event will come days after Clinton—known as the quintessential retail politician -- will hit the trail for Obama in New Hampshire, just hours before Obama faces off with Romney in the first presidential debate.

“He is the only person on the planet who has been faced with the same decisions Obama’s been faced with and really is the best person to go to the American people to say ‘I know what he’s been through. He’s doing the right thing,'” said a source close to Clinton.

The Obama campaign also used Clinton’s name Friday in a mass e-mail to donors before the final FEC fundraising deadline.

“President Clinton changed the trajectory of the race,” said Chris Lehane, the Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. “It was a major, major moment in campaign history. Not only did President Obama get a bounce. It’s a sustained plateau.”

“It would be like being in the bottom of the 9th of game seven of the World Series with the score tied where you need to bring in a pinch hitter – and you look down the bench and see that Babe Ruth has come back to life in his prime and is suited up with a bat,” Lehane added. “And you send him to the plate where on the first pitch he hits a 600 foot home run that has yet to come back to earth.”

Since the Charlotte speech, Obama himself has praised Clinton repeatedly, joking again and again that someone suggested that he appoint the former president as the “Secretary of Explaining Things.”

This week, standing beside the former president at the Clinton Global Initiative—a non-profit created by the 42nd president—Obama praised him for being a “tireless and passionate advocate on behalf of what’s best in our country.”

“I am grateful for your friendship and your extraordinary leadership,” Obama said. “And I think I speak for the entire country when we say that you continue to be a great treasure for all of us.”

Speaking at the same conference, even Romney acknowledged Clinton’s presence in the race.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good,” Romney told the crowd at CGI. “After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce.”

Earlier this year, Clinton inadvertently helped the Romney campaign, causing some consternation at Obama's campaign headquarters, after he said that Romney had a “sterling” business career at a time when the president’s team was trying to rip his credentials as an executive. At the same time, Clinton suggested that it might be problematic for the Obama campaign to slam Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, the private equity firm.

“I don’t think we ought to get into the position where we say this is bad work,” Clinton told CNN. “This is good work.”

But observers have credited Clinton in recent days with helping to boost the Obama campaign at time when the president needed it most.

Tobe Berkovitz, a professor at Boston University who specializes in political communication, acknowledged that Clinton is one contributing factor for Obama’s rise in the polls, in addition to a lackluster convention for Romney coupled with repeated gaffes including his now infamous 47 percent line.

But he said that Clinton was able to lend Obama some credibility by extending the “positive halo” surrounding Clinton.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt with the base and with swing and undecided voters when the most charismatic and most popular politician around is aggressively supporting the president,” Berkovitz said. “ He connects with voters in a way that Obama doesn’t.”