For Democratic political junkies, Sunday morning’s event in Concord, N.H., will provide a rare moment — two presidents of the United States, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, speaking on the same stage. It’s like a rock ’n’ roll fan attending a Beatles concert, with the Rolling Stones as the opening act.
Of all the non-family surrogates in this presidential campaign, perhaps none has worked as effectively for either candidate as Clinton. At age 66, he has been soldiering through three and sometimes four enthusiastic stump speeches a day on behalf of a man with whom he has a political history so complicated it would be hard to imagine were it not true.
He was provocateur and antagonist during Obama’s upset of his wife, Hillary Clinton, in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Then he was dutiful ally of an Obama administration that includes his wife as secretary of state. Two months ago, he was the convention show-stealer in Charlotte.
In the campaign’s final weeks, he has been a trail warrior. That would be an IOU payable in full should Hillary Clinton seek the presidency in 2016. When Clinton takes the stage in downtown Concord, it will be part of a nine-day blitz of nine states, drawing crowds ranging from 500 to a few thousand. An appearance by the 42d president guarantees news coverage, which is important in many of the smaller media markets on his schedule. He is also emerging as the campaign’s top relief pitcher. When Obama left the trail to deal with Hurricane Sandy on Monday, Clinton headlined an event in Orlando, Fla.
Clinton has also dropped into states where Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign is making late dashes to expand the swing state map in an effort to reach 270 electoral votes. When Romney’s campaign began making noises about taking a run at Minnesota, which last tilted Republican in a presidential contest 40 years ago, Clinton last Tuesday appeared at college campuses in heavily Democratic Minneapolis and Duluth.
Clinton is scheduled to return Sunday to St. Cloud, Minn., finishing a chaotic day that begins in Concord, with stops in Dover, N.H., and Raleigh, N.C. Monday will see him in Pittsburgh and Scranton and at two events in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is another state where Romney and Republicans are pouring in late money and other resources.
At each stop, Clinton speaks for about 40 minutes, spicing a version of his Democratic National Convention speech with local references and personal asides, driving home the fact that he has visited these places before and no one understands what it takes to be president better than someone who has been there.
When Michelle Obama, the president’s wife, suggested his embrace of her husband at the Charlotte convention was evidence of a “bromance,” Clinton demurred. “We haven’t been close friends a long time or anything like that, but he knows I support him,” Clinton told NBC News at the time.
After the Charlotte address, Obama said someone suggested he appoint the former president “secretary of explaining stuff” because of his ability to take complicated economic and budget issues and convey the Democratic position concisely.
On Wednesday, in heavily Democratic, industrial Waterloo, one of three Iowa stops that day, and as President Obama was surveying storm damage in the East, Clinton praised the virtue of Iowans in times of crisis. The next day in Perrysburg, in a swing area of northwest Ohio, Clinton pummeled Romney’s campaign for its ad suggesting Chrysler, which makes Jeeps in nearby Toledo, was moving production jobs to China. Clinton not only noted Chrysler’s denial of the claim, he also took some credit for expansion of the Toledo facilities while he was president.
Clinton’s itinerary features a tightly targeted mix of venues — white, blue-collar cities that vote traditionally Democratic but where Obama is struggling this year and high-turnout counties that are in swing or Republican areas. In Ohio Thursday, for example, besides Perrysburg in Wood County, he visited heavily Democratic Akron and Chillicothe in Republican-leaning Ross County.
Clinton, often dubbed “the first African-American president” for his work for and rapport with the black community, has also been called upon to shore up the base in communities with significant African-American population, including St. Petersburg, Fla., and Roanoke and Chesapeake, Va.
Brian Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.