Bill Clinton showered praise on Barack Obama and warned that Mitt Romney’s election would be “calamitous” for the U.S., as the former and current presidents joined forces to appeal to donors in New York.
Clinton, who undercut Obama’s campaign message last week, was unstinting last night in his support for the Democratic incumbent’s re-election in November. The two men showcased their alliance, soothing wounds that have taken years to heal after a bitter 2008 primary fight between Obama and his now-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the former first lady.
Obama’s campaign is counting on Clinton, who presided over the creation of 22.7 million U.S. jobs during his two terms in office, to bolster the president’s economic message. Clinton likened Republican challenger Romney’s policies to European-style fiscal austerity and issued a fiery endorsement of Obama.
“I don’t think it’s important to re-elect the president; I think it is essential to re-elect the president,” Clinton told a fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, the second of three events last night. “It is my opinion that he has performed extremely well under very, very difficult circumstances.”
Clinton and Obama have had a complex and tense relationship that has played out on the public stage. Last night’s fundraisers, aimed at collecting almost $4 million, came less than a week after Clinton questioned a central theme of the president’s campaign: that Romney’s private-equity experience disqualifies him from the presidency.
Still, Obama’s campaign has solicited Clinton’s help at all levels, including targeting specific demographic groups. He is also raising money for Priorities USA Action, a so-called super political action committee founded by former Obama aides.
“I don’t think there’s a state I wouldn’t put him in,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. “There isn’t anyone he couldn’t talk to. He’s just -- he’s Bill Clinton.”
The president has “made the best of a miserable situation” with the economy, Clinton told donors at a reception last night at the home of Marc Lasry, managing partner and founder of Avenue Capital Group LLC.
After the event at the home of Lasry, a top Democratic donor and long-time supporter of the Clintons, Obama and the former president headlined a gala at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where singer Jon Bon Jovi performed. They also attended a Broadway concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre that included performances by Megan Hilty, James Earl Jones, Tony Kushner, Mandy Patinkin and Stockard Channing.
Europe in Trouble
“Why aren’t things roaring along now? Because Europe is in trouble and because the Republican Congress has adopted the European economic policy,” Clinton said. “Austerity and unemployment now at all costs. I mean, after all, their unemployment rate is at 11 percent and ours is 8. We can get right up there if we adopt their policies.”
The Obama campaign also was raising money by holding a raffle for small-dollar supporters that offers an expenses-paid trip to New York and a chance to meet privately with Obama and Clinton.
Obama’s aides are warning supporters that the president’s current fundraising lead may be overcome by the independent super-PACs backing Romney. The super-PACs can take in unlimited donations from corporations and individuals and their nonprofit arms that keep their donors secret.
While Obama had 12 times as much in his campaign account as Romney through the end of April, $115.2 million to $9.2 million, the advantage shrinks to less than 2-1 when the bank accounts of the national party committees and friendly super-PACs were added.
Obama echoed those concerns, warning that Republican super-PACs will spend $500 million on negative ads against him. The ads “will try to feed all those fears, those anxieties and that frustration,” he said.
“They’re not offering anything new, they’re just saying, things are tough, it’s Obama’s fault” the president said. “There’s no vision for the future there, no imagination.”
Romney also raised money yesterday. Romney, co-founder of the Bain Capital LLC private-equity firm, had fundraisers in Oregon and Washington.
In addition to fundraising help, Obama’s strategists plan to dispatch Clinton to Midwestern battleground states where he can highlight an asset he has and Obama lacks: a record of robust economic growth while in office.
A U.S. Labor Department report last week showed that payrolls expanded by 69,000 last month, fewer than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of private economists, while the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent. It is a critical time in the campaign, as voters are beginning to lock in perceptions of the economy five months before the election.
Obama said that over the next several weeks he’s going to be “clarifying for people the choice” in the November election.
The Republican Party has “gone from a preference for market-based solutions to an absolutism when it comes to the marketplace,” Obama said at the fundraiser at Lasry’s home. “A belief that all regulations are bad, that government has no role to play, that we shouldn’t simply be making sure that we balance the budget, we have to drastically shrink the government and eliminate those commitments that ensure the middle class have a chance to succeed.”
Obama said that his spending record and Clinton’s show a commitment to responsible fiscal policy.
“The truth is the two presidents over the last 30 years, 40 years who have had the lowest increases in government spending -- You’re looking at them right here. They’re on this stage,” the president said at the Waldorf fundraiser.
Even as Clinton is serving as a prime surrogate, trumpeting Obama’s economic policy, hitting the trail to rally activists and raise money, endorsing the president’s rescue of the U.S. auto industry and highlighting his killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, he isn’t always on message.
In a May 31 CNN interview, the former president undermined the narrative Obama’s campaign is building around the presumed Republican presidential nominee -- that Romney’s background as a private-equity executive doesn’t translate into the skills needed to be president.
While Clinton predicted an Obama victory in November and said Obama’s proposals are better for the economy than Romney’s, he also said that “the man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”
“With any and all surrogates, there is always the challenge that those who will be the most respected because they have their own platform, their own constituency and their own ideas, will also be the surrogates most likely not to adhere directly to the talking points,” said Christopher Lehane, who was press secretary to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Clinton’s political role was mapped out last November when Messina, Patrick Gaspard, Democratic National Committee executive director, and David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, visited Clinton’s Harlem office where they outlined a plan, solicited his input and personally asked for his help.
“I’m looking forward to hitting the campaign trail hard,” Obama said at Lasry’s home. “Luckily, I’ll have some pretty good companions along the way.”