Barack Obama met with Bill Clinton this afternoon after his joint visit to Ground Zero with John McCain in a first response to his post-convention deflation. The two men managed to put a brave face on their mutual distrust after Obama’s hat-in-hand pilgrimage to South Harlem. In the end, Clinton agreed to rescue campaign for Obama in Florida and perhaps elsewhere … but he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about it:
Clinton kept his answers short when he was asked about his involvement with Obama’s campaign this fall. The former president noted an already-announced trip Sept. 29 to Florida.
Obama said, “We’re putting him to work.”
Asked if he would be doing more, Clinton said, “I’ve agreed to do a substantial number of things, whatever I’m asked to do.”
Before reporters were ushered out, Clinton was asked where he sees the race between Obama and Republican John McCain.
“I predict that Sen. Obama will win and win pretty handily,” he said.
Clinton kept his answers short? Bill Clinton? This is the man who could answer “Good morning” with a two-minute dissertation on politics. If he emerged from the meeting in a quiet mood, that doesn’t exactly scream enthusiasm.
Obama liked the prediction, too, but he’d do well to remember that Clinton predicted a large Gore win, and an easy victory for Kerry as well.
At least this shows that Obama knows his campaign is in trouble. He needs the Clintons more than he would admit before. Bill still has some gas left in the tank, although he got in Hillary’s way more often than he helped her. Eugene Robinson wrote about it for the Washington Post in December:
Bill Clinton has always had a way of making himself the story, and he’s at it again.
When the Clintons made a campaign stop at an Iowa grocery store Tuesday, Hillary’s face said it all. She realized that Bill had departed from the script and wandered off to another part of the store, and cameras caught her scanning the aisles with a look of sheer terror. Bill was supposed to be at Hillary’s side; instead, he was way over yonder, giving an interview to “Entertainment Tonight.” What was supposed to be a controlled photo op had suddenly turned into a happening.
Spontaneity gives ulcers to campaign staffers, but the supermarket stop got much more coverage than it would have if Bill had followed the script. He ended up drawing more attention to himself than the candidate — which is in keeping with his formal campaign speeches. On the stump, he draws big crowds and comes off as charming, eloquent and persuasive. But reporters who have tallied his words say that he talks more about himself than about his wife — at a ratio of about 9 to 1.
Obama really doesn’t have any other choice but to get Bill involved at this point — he’s made a mess of the campaign over the summer and has lost the “New Politics” edge altogether. He has to hope that Bill will feel motivated to play kingmaker and will make the Obama case, rather than remind people what they could have had with a Hillary Clinton nomination. Given Bill’s inability to stay on message for his own wife’s benefit, though, how much can Obama rely on Bill sublimating his own ego-stroking to boost Obama?