WASHINGTON -- After almost three months on the sidelines, President Clinton is preparing to hit the campaign trail using his considerable political skills to help the Democratic cause in Nov. 7 voting.
The pre-election blitz by Clinton will be aimed largely at propelling the Democratic faithful to the polls in key states. Boasting the highest job approval ratings since President
Eisenhower's second term, Clinton is heavy artillery for his party.
"Pack your bags," presidential spokesman Jake Siewert told the White House press corps. "Get ready."
Vice President Al Gore is eager for Clinton's help in turning out the party's core voters but mindful of the need to keep some distance from the president. In a delicate balance, he needs Clinton's charisma but worries that presidential appearances will remind uncommitted and swing voters of the scandals of the Clinton presidency. Thus both men will spend plenty of time campaigning in the battleground states -- but not together.
"You don't have to be Albert Einstein to know there is some risk," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst.
Rothenberg added that the Democrats are only taking the risk because the election is so close. "If Gore were up 10 points, this wouldn't happen," said Rothenberg. "There would be a lot of golf to be played otherwise," he said, referring to the president's favorite pastime.
The Gore campaign, while implicitly recognizing the power of the president as a party leader, is careful in discussing the subject.
"Our approach is that it's traditional for the nominee to be out there carrying the message and have other folks turning out the base and raising the money," said Douglas Hattaway, Gore's campaign spokesman.
With large numbers of indifferent and uncommitted voters who may choose to stay home, the contests -- at the presidential level as well as in Senate and House races -- may depend on the ability of Democrats and Republicans to get their most fervent partisans to the polls.
The president can be particularly helpful in states such as Michigan and New Jersey, two key states with significant numbers of union members and black voters, among the president's most enthusiastic supporters. Florida and Pennsylvania are also likely destinations for Clinton, said one knowledgeable Democratic congressional staff aide.
Yet while Clinton's appearances can boost the hearts and hopes of the Democratic faithful, the impact might be negative for uncommitted and wavering voters.
"He can mobilize the base, but I'm not sure the base is the problem now," said Rothenberg. "Weak Democrats are the problem. Weak partisans, swing voters and ticket splitters are the problem. These are the voters that are important."
Mark Fabiani, deputy Gore campaign manager, refused to speculate about the potential downside of Clinton's participation in the final days of the campaign. "Our sole and complete focus in on Al Gore," he said.
Political analysts noted that, while the president continues to command the rapt allegiance of Democratic donors, his moral missteps and the impeachment that followed might have tainted him as a Gore spokesman before broader audiences.
Now, however, the back-and-forth race between Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush is breaking down reluctance to use the president as a campaigner before masses of voters. With polls showing Gore and Bush running neck and neck, Democratic political strategists said that Gore surely will lose if traditional Democratic constituencies -- blacks, Jews and union members -- fail to vote in large numbers.
And that is where Clinton comes in.
"He's loved by Democrats and by the base voters in the party -- he can rev them up like few people can," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic political analyst. "In all the key battleground states, the president can do a lot to excite and mobilize the base."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.