It’s an interesting move by the DNC and Obama campaign. Clinton, the ultimate political animal, brings positives and negatives for Obama’s reelection.
1. Clinton has the ability to appeal to voters that Obama has trouble with, particularly the white working class.
2. Clinton serves as a reminder that the country experienced massive economic growth during a Democratic presidency. Clinton will try to link his policies to Obama’s, in particular the president’s call for a higher income tax rate for the wealthy.
3. Clinton is broadly popular with the American electorate, with a 66% favorable rating according to a recent CNN poll. It generally doesn’t hurt to have a guy who’s intensely popular endorse you and sing your praises on prime-time TV.
4. Clinton’s appearance will increase party unity and perhaps finally heal the rift created by the 2008 Hillary v. Obama primary.
1. Clinton campaigned and governed as a “new Democrat” who famously promised that the “era of big government is over.” Obama is bringing big government back in a big way. Moreover, Clinton was famous for triangulation, or moving towards the center rather than the left. Obama has moved left, left, left since the midterms. The discrepancy here is large, and it could remind voters that Obama is not the type of Democrat that Americans really like.
2. Clinton’s economic record makes Obama’s look poor in comparison. And the fact that Clinton achieved his economic success with a Republican Congress undercuts Obama’s claim that obstructionist Republicans are to blame for our malaise. After all, the government actually shut down during the Clinton years, so it’s not like the GOP was super cooperative back then, either. Voters may find themselves wondering why Clinton was able to negotiate with Republicans and move legislation while Obama has been unable to do so.
3. Clinton has already muddled Team Obama’s messaging twice this summer. While it would be shocking if he didn’t completely toe the party line during the keynote speech, you really can never be sure what Bill will do. Any misstep would be a disaster given the high profile of the speech.
1. He could steal the show. Clinton simply loves politics, and he’s damn good at it. Combine his rhetorical ability with the fact that he actually has a strong record to talk about, and many voters may find themselves wishing for another four years of Bill instead of Barack.
At the end of the day, Clinton’s speech isn’t going to decide the election (unless something extraordinary happens). And while there are downsides to having him as the keynote speaker, his positives outweigh his negatives. Team Obama is taking a calculated risk by tapping him for the role, but it’s one that is likely to pay off.