When I sounded out Democratic leaders at their last national convention about whether Bill Clinton should campaign for the Gore-Lieberman ticket that fall, the answers were mixed. Many party leaders in Los Angeles that year, while reluctant to talk about the outgoing President’s involvement with a White House intern and subsequent impeachment, nonetheless expressed doubts that the lame-duck president should be deployed on the campaign trail.
Monday evening in at Boston’s FleetCenter was light years removed from Los Angeles of four years ago. Even before the 42nd President was given a hero’s welcome by John Kerry’s convention, Democrats on the floor told me in near-unanimity: “Bring on Bill!”
“I sure hope he does [campaign for Kerry},” former Vice President Walter Mondale told me, “He’s a very important voice in America.” When I reminded the 1984 Presidential nominee that he was one of those at the last convention with reservations about Clinton, he replied: “The problems he was in then are irrelevant now.” (Tongue in cheek, I asked Mondale what problems he was referring to, to which he replied with a smile: “You know what I’m talking about.”)
Along with elder statesmen like Mondale, the enthusiasm for Clinton on the stump extended to regular party workers. Paul Stolberg, a member of the Andover (MA) Democratic Town Committee, said “Bill Clinton should be there, front and center–absolutely!” Asked if he felt Clinton was still controversial, Stolberg, whose wife is a Kerry field coordinator, said: “People hate him, sure. But my feeling is if people don’t hate you, you aren’t doing your job.”
Rep. Mark Udall (D.-Col.), noting that his homestate was a swing state in the campaign, said, “Bill Clinton’s style, his rhetoric, places well here. He’s beyond well-spoken.” As to whether he agreed with Mondale that the impeached former President has been forgiven for events of his final years in office, Udall said that he did agree and likened the public warmth to Clinton out of office to the farewell given to Ronald Reagan upon his passing.
Seated with Udall in the Centennial State delegation was State Democratic Chairman Christopher T. Gates, who has known Clinton for years before he ran for president. “Bill Clinton is popular and his popularity has only gone up since he left office,” Gates told me, “I was just with him when he came into Colorado for a book-signing, to raise money for his library, and for a memorial to the Columbine victims. At every stop, he was mobbed. I just wish Al Gore had used Clinton more. He’s a superstar!”