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06.30.10

Is Bill Stealing Obama's Mojo?

Former President Clinton bucked the White House in endorsing the challenger in Colorado’s Senate race. Mark McKinnon on why 42’s popularity is surging—while Obama may be the kiss of death this fall.

Barack Obama may have bested Hillary Clinton for the presidency, and he may have kept her from causing him political trouble by appointing her secretary of State. But nothing in the contract said her husband Bill was going to stay down on the farm. And he's not.

Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton endorsed state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in Colorado’s Democratic primary for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Michael Bennet, who has President Obama’s support.

In a poll recently released by Public Policy Polling, 48 percent of likely voters say support from President Barack Obama would make them less likely to vote for a candidate.

Bill Clinton, the "Comeback Kid," is back again—and stirring things up as only he can. Straying from the playbook is bad enough, but it has to be a source of some frustration and teeth-gnashing for Obama’s inner circle that Bill Clinton has become a more popular campaign surrogate and endorser than their boss.

The former president’s favorables are now at 51 percent, higher than Obama’s. And it was Clinton, with his strong appeal among working-class voters, who helped both Rep. Mark Critz (Pennsylvania) and the embattled Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas) slug it out in their races.

Bryan Curtis: Obama’s Immigration Surge The Rocky Balboa of politics, Bill Clinton is always ready to step back in the ring. Training hard, he has focused on rebuilding his legacy. He joined former President George H.W. Bush in a public campaign to raise money for survivors of the 2004 tsunami. He’s established a foundation focused on fixing some of the world's most pressing challenges, and more recently with former President George W. Bush, coordinated U.N. relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake.

Love him or loathe him, Bubba inspires “The Real Thing”—brand loyalty.

Ironically, in a poll recently released by Public Policy Polling, 48 percent of likely voters say support from President Barack Obama would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. A sea change, indeed. Obama rewrote the rules for political campaigning and brand marketing in 2008, winning millions of new voters, young voters, and independents. But after a bruising year and a half in office, some of the luster of transparency and transcendency is gone.

Reeling from both “man-caused” and natural disasters, the Obama brand is under siege and not just from Republicans.

Über-liberal Janeane Garofalo delivers a body blow: “I have to say I was surprised how disappointing the Obama administration has turned out to be.” And for the knockout: “I am more used to it now.” She’s not alone. Jon Stewart jabs David Axelrod: “Has government during this time proved itself competent?” And from Bob Herbert in The New York Times: Barack Obama and the Democrats “have wasted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity handed to them in the 2008 election.”

And it’s even tougher in the crowd out there. Sixty-four percent of likely voters say the nation is on the wrong track. Now just 20 percent of registered voters identify themselves as liberals, while 42 percent call themselves conservatives. And not only are conservatives trending up (with liberals trending down), they are also significantly more enthusiastic about voting in the 2010 congressional elections.

Even independents are ready to throw in the towel. By more than a 2-1 margin, independents agree more Republicans are needed in Congress as “a check and balance on runaway Washington government.”

The New York Times reports Obama’s standing among independents has dropped from a high of 63 percent early in his presidency to about 47 percent now. And Rasmussen shows 57 percent of voters now feel Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president while only 51 percent say Obama is fit for the job.

So will an endorsement by Obama hurt Dems’ chances in November?

Despite a lot of footwork, Obama couldn't help Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), the fourth Democrat in seven months to lose a high-profile race. His endorsement didn't help Gov. Jon Corzine (NJ), state Sen. Creigh Deeds (VA) or Attorney General Martha Coakley (MA). And though Obama backed Rep. Critz in the elimination bout for the late Sen. John Murtha’s seat, Critz opposed Obama's health -are plan and even skipped the president’s visit to Pennsylvania a few weeks back.

President Obama’s approval rating is just 40 percent in the 60 most vulnerable Democratic House districts, and at 46.6 percent nationally. History tells us when a president is below 50 percent nationally, his party loses more than 40 seats. Republicans only need to pick up 40 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate to take control. And it can be done. In 1994, Republicans gained a net total of 54 House seats, eight Senate seats and a majority of governorships.

So it won't be a big surprise if Democrats, particularly in swing districts, prefer for Obama to stay in DC come fall.

But Bill Clinton will likely be in huge demand, as will Sarah Palin, his Republican counterpart, who has become a heavyweight endorser as well.

For someone who no longer holds elective office and has been summarily dismissed by the press, Palin has an impressive endorsement record this primary season; she’s 9-3 so far. Among her best picks: state Rep. Nikki Haley (SC) and Carly Fiorina (CA).

An interesting title match in the fall elections: Who will have more impact as the party surrogate? Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton? Texas may be one of the races to watch with the Clinton-endorsed former Houston Mayor Bill White (D) challenging Palin’s pick, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R).

In the words of Rocky Balboa: “There ain't nothin' over till it's over.”

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.