Biden is missing one big endorser: Bill Clinton
One name has been noticeably absent from Joe Biden’s string of endorsements in recent weeks: former President Clinton.
While former President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among the party luminaries who have rolled out endorsements to keep Biden’s name in the news and send the signal of a unifying party, Bill Clinton has not had his moment.
Some Democrats say that’s likely not unintentional, arguing that a high-profile endorsement of Biden by Bill Clinton would be off-key as the former vice president deals with a 1993 charge of sexual assault from a former staffer.
“Talk about a man who doesn’t fit the moment,” said one longtime Democratic fundraiser.
Biden has denied the charge, saying the incident never happened. And his campaign has become more aggressive in pushing back, arguing ex-staffer Tara Reade has changed her story and scolding the media for not digging into the issue further. Reade in an interview this week said Biden should drop out of the race for the White House.
A public endorsement from Bill Clinton, who was impeached for lying about an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and who has dealt with various sex scandals throughout his long political career, would be ill timed, say some Democrats.
“Republicans would have a field day,” said one Democrat who served in the Obama White House. “Even though President Clinton left with high approval ratings, he’s still catnip for the right [wing], especially at this moment. The optics would be terrible.”
The former aide said that “it’s no coincidence” the public has heard from Hillary Clinton but not her husband, saying it’s smart to put off an endorsement for some time.
But a Biden ally said it made sense for Hillary Clinton to be part of the initial lineup without the former president.
“Secretary Clinton was the first woman of either major political party to be the nominee for president and represented the Democratic Party during the last presidential cycle, so it was important for her support to stand on its own,” the ally said.
“President Clinton has been a force on the campaign trail for Democrats up and down the ballot for decades. I’m sure Vice President Biden looks forward to his help in beating the most dangerous and corrupt president of our lifetime,” the ally added.
Angel Ureña, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, said the former president would actively support Biden in the general election.
“For more than 40 years, President Clinton has supported and worked hard for the nominee of his party,” Ureña said. “This cycle will be no different.”
Ureña said that how and when Bill Clinton’s endorsement happens is up to the Biden campaign.
There’s no doubt that Bill Clinton — the so-called “explainer in chief” — could be helpful to Biden, who faces a big cash deficit compared with President Trump’s campaign and is looking for fundraising help.
Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who served as the director of African American Paid Media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said that “there will assuredly be a place” for the former president as a surrogate on the campaign trail, virtually or traditionally.
“But the further you get from a president and their presidency, the less relevant their political capital becomes,” Payne said. “It’s been 20 years since Bill Clinton was in the White House, and the Democratic Party has morphed and transformed since then — no surprise that Democrats will be more strategic with how he is deployed on the trail.”
Some argue the “Me Too” movement makes it less likely Bill Clinton will play an active role in the presidential campaign. These voices note that the former president has been relatively quiet throughout the Trump presidency and that he took a backseat role in the 2018 midterms.
Asked if the former president will emerge this cycle to help Biden’s effort, one longtime Bill Clinton ally said, “He’ll of course want to.”
“But I kinda doubt it,” the ally added.
Biden was of course a member of the Obama administration and is more reliant on that former president for help in the 2020 campaign.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the Biden campaign could use Bill Clinton to gin up turnout in urban areas, particularly with black voters “who adore the former president.”
“Otherwise you won’t see much interaction between the Biden campaign and Bill Clinton,” he predicted.
At the same time, Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko, who served on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said many Democrats still consider Bill Clinton the patriarch of the Democratic Party, and few can forget the role he played in Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
He pointed to the speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention, where he gave the most compelling address for Obama.
“No president, no president — not me or any of my predecessors, no one, could have repaired all the damage he found in just four years,” Bill Clinton said in the convention speech in Charlotte, N.C. “But he laid the foundation for a new, modern, successful economy, of shared prosperity, and if you renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.”
Parkhomenko said Bill Clinton is “absolutely one of the best surrogates” for any campaign.
“He knows how to win elections and more often than not he’s underutilized,” he said.