Obama taps Clinton to help deliver final pitch to swing-state voters

Former President Clinton will campaign for President Obama in two crucial swing states on Monday, high-profile appearances for a Democratic icon who has often had a complicated relationship with the current White House. 

More than ever, in the final weeks of the election, Obama has come to rely on Clinton, whom he has jokingly called his “Secretary of Explaining Stuff,” after the former president’s rousing, much-heralded speech at the Democratic National Convention, to make the case that the nation's economy is on the path to recovery.

And as Obama begins the last full week of his presidential campaign he will call on Clinton to help him make the final sell for a second term to swing-state voters.

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“President Clinton is the ultimate closer,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. “He serves as a real validator to the core essence of Obama’s message, which is ‘Who do you trust?’ ”

“To have President Clinton weigh in at this particular time, putting a heavy thumb on one side of the scale, is a very powerful force to have,” Lehane added.

Clinton will open the day with a rally in Orlando, Fla., before heading to Youngstown, Ohio, where he will be joined by Vice President Biden. Obama, who was slated to appear at both rallies, will instead return to Washington to monitor Hurricane Sandy’s landfall late Monday and help coordinate the federal response. A third planned event for the two in Virginia was canceled to allow authorities in the state to prepare for the looming storm.

Obama, who is in a razor-tight race with Romney and trailing his opponent in some national polls, is banking on his strongest surrogate on the campaign trail to help make the case that the president has been guiding the country in the right direction.

Clinton and Obama have experienced an often tense relationship dating from 2008 when the former president campaigned forcefully for his wife, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Since then Clinton has often publicly taken stances at odds with the administration.

Still Obama courted Clinton, tapping the Democratic icon to headline fundraisers and defend the administration’s record before voters.

Clinton made a successful case for Obama at the convention in Charlotte, and almost immediately strategists credited the former president with giving Obama a much-needed bounce in what had been a steady race. There was even a name for it: “The Clinton Bump.”

Since then, Clinton has played a significant role in the campaign, appearing with the president at a fundraiser in Los Angeles and holding his own rallies for Obama.

Earlier this month, at an event with Bruce Springsteen in Ohio, Clinton sought to reassure voters on Obama’s economic record, telling a crowd that the president knew the economy is “not fixed… the question is which path will fix it.”

At the event, Clinton sought to portray Obama as one who has been there for middle-class Americans in places like Ohio, touting the federal bailout of the auto industry, important to the state’s economy.

“When you were down, you were out and your whole economy was threatened, the president had your back,” Clinton said. “You’ve got to have his back, too.”

Observers say Clinton, still a much beloved figure in the Democratic Party with high approval ratings, has the unique ability to telegraph a message to voters in the closing days of the campaign that the economy is rebounding, because he’s done it before. 

“He has the ability like no one else to vouch for the president’s policies and can make the point that we’re going in the right direction and reiterate that the recovery that people feel is right around the corner,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as White House press secretary during the Clinton administration. “I can’t think of anyone better to make that case.”

But Republicans says Obama has no choice but to cling to Clinton in the final days because they say he doesn’t have much to seal the deal on Election Day.

“The president has exhausted his likeability,” said Ken Lundberg, a Republican strategist. “You see it in the polls. You see it in the smaller crowds.

“For many Democrats, Bill Clinton is still a powerful draw,” Lundberg added. “He’s the most charismatic Democrat of our time. Bill Clinton is the president’s last, best hope to re-energize a tired, frustrated and discouraged base.”

In recent days, Obama surrogates have sought to tie Obama’s policies to Clinton’s, making the case that that they are of the same mind.

In an interview on ABC’s "This Week," last Sunday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as a senior adviser to Clinton and Obama’s chief of staff, said Obama “has built policies on the same premises that President Clinton had, investing in America and strengthening America’s foundation, its people and its economic bedrock.”

But Republicans say the attempt to link the two presidents’ policies is proof that Obama has failed to develop his own economic agenda for a second term.

“Obama talking about Clinton’s record more than his own in the final days of the campaign shows he really doesn’t have a plan to move our country forward,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary at the Republican National Committee. “Americans know the economy Obama has saddled us with is not Bill Clinton’s economy.”

At the same time, there are those who argue that Clinton may have hurt the president’s campaign. A New York Times story last week, pointed out that Clinton “forcefully argued” to Obama’s campaign that they should portray Romney as a “severe conservative” rather than attack him as an inconsistent flip-flopper, a move some have suggested was ineffective against Romney.

“It’s not hard to understand why Mr. Obama and his advisers took Mr. Clinton’s advice to heart; to disregard it would be like telling Derek Jeter ‘Hey man, appreciate the input, but I think I know how to make that flip play from the hole just fine on my own,” Matt Bai wrote in the Times.

But strategists say Clinton has done nothing but boost the incumbent’s campaign.

“His help is nothing but net positive,” Lehane said. “He’s immensely popular, as popular as he’s ever been.”

This story was updated at 8:25 a.m.