Clinton's Return to Campaign Trail Shows Kerry's Weakness, Says Pollster

July 7, 2008 - 7:30 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Following the announcement that former President Bill Clinton would return to the campaign trail after six weeks of recovery from heart surgery, a Republican pollster Wednesday said it showed Sen. John Kerry was desperate.

Clinton resurfaced in the presidential campaign Wednesday with a fund-raising pitch to Democrats. It was also announced that he would join Kerry in Philadelphia next week.

"The fact that John Kerry needs Bill Clinton so badly speaks to the weakness of his campaign and the inability of them to get out an effective message to really energize the base," said Neil Newhouse, co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.

Since undergoing heart surgery Sept. 6 in New York, Clinton has been absent from the campaign trail. Monday was the six-week mark in his recovery, about the time he was supposed to resume some activity on behalf of Kerry.

Kerry told an audience in Iowa on Tuesday that Clinton would join him at a campaign rally in Philadelphia next Monday. The former president also sent a personalized e-mail to supporters Wednesday pleading for money.

"With so much on the line, and with so little time remaining, I couldn't let a critical moment like this pass without personally calling on you to act before it is too late," the e-mail stated. "I know how hard you're working, how much you've already given of yourself. But we've got to dig even deeper between now and November 2."

Press reports Wednesday said Kerry campaign aides have been itching to get Clinton back on the campaign trail. Besides appearing with Kerry next week, Clinton has also agreed to record phone messages urging people to vote.

Democratic National Committee consultant Howard Wolfson, a former aide to Sen. Hillary Clinton, said the former president wouldn't push himself in his recovery from heart surgery.

"I spoke with Senator Clinton over the weekend, who said the president was recuperating, but he wasn't necessarily in the place where he could go out and campaign," Wolfson said. "I think that the pace of his recovery is going to be dictated by his doctors and the best medical advice he gets.

"Obviously we would like to have him out on the campaign trail," Wolfson added. "And if he is able to do it, he will. And if he can't, he won't. I think Democrats, and I suspect all Americans, just wish him well in his recovery."

Clinton's absence might be hurting Kerry's standing with black Americans, said Frank Donatelli, a Republican strategist and former political director for President Ronald Reagan. Once called the "first black president" by novelist Toni Morrison, Clinton continues to be a powerful figure with minorities.

"There are some interesting signs out there," Donatelli said, "both in the black community and the Hispanic community, that President Bush may make some gains for the Republicans, certainly beyond the typical 10 percent [support] in the black community and maybe in excess of 35 to 40 percent in the Hispanic community, which would obviously be a huge boost for the Republicans."

A survey from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released Tuesday showed Bush had the support of 18 percent of black voters, which doubled his standing from 2000.

Wolfson, who appeared with Donatelli and Newhouse on a panel Wednesday, dismissed suggestions that Kerry was suffering from a lack of support among members of his base.

"I don't understand how we can on the one hand discuss how there is unprecedented interest in this race and unprecedented enthusiasm ... and then on the other hand suggest we're not going to be bringing out our base," Wolfson said. "I have never seen the Democratic Party as energized as it is today."

Democrat pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, predicted Clinton would save Kerry's campaign just as injured Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling beat the New York Yankees to avoid his team's playoff elimination Tuesday. An ankle injury forced Schilling to cut short his Game 1 start against the Yankees, but he rebounded with a victory in Game 6.

"I think President Clinton is the Curt Schilling of this election. He may need a high-top shoe," Hart said in reference to Schilling's injury, "but he'll be out there one way or another. ... The potential of making a difference with the African American vote is tremendous. It may be radio ads or something else."

Donatelli, the Republican, quipped: "I like Curt Schilling, but if he's Curt Schilling, I hope he's the Curt Schilling of Game 1 when we translate it to this particular arena. Obviously we wish the former president a very speedy recovery."

See Earlier Story:
Clinton, Recovering From Heart Surgery, Stumps for Kerry
(Oct. 20, 2004)

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