President Obama's re-election team has tapped one of the Democratic Party's biggest stars, former President Bill Clinton, to give a primetime address on the second night of the Democratic National Convention — the spot traditionally given to the vice president or running mate, bumping Joe Biden to introducing Obama on the final night of the convention. Clinton, basking in record-high popularity, will make the economic case for giving Obama another four years, then formally nominate the president for re-election. "There isn't anybody on the planet who has a greater perspective on not just the last four years, but the last two decades, than Bill Clinton," Obama chief strategist David Axelrod tells The New York Times. But Obama and Clinton have a "complicated and decidedly awkward political relationship," notes National Journal's Reid Wilson, and Clinton has famously gone off-message a few times this year. Is giving Obama's chief frenemy a big role at the convention a wise use of party assets, or a sign of desperation at Obama HQ?
Obama is getting desperate: Giving Clinton such a big role is a clear "distress call" from Team Obama, says Brit Hume at Fox News, and proof that "Obama is in deep trouble and he and his political handlers know it." With the race tied, economic growth stagnating, and Mitt Romney gaining ground, "Obama is clearly shooting for a big Democratic turnout in November." The problem is, Democrats aren't as fired up as they were in 2008. Clearly, the Obama campaign is hoping that calling in the Big Dog will change that.
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Actually, bringing in Clinton is a smart gamble: There are definite risks in unleashing the Big Dog, most notably that Clinton "could steal the show," says Henrik Temp at the American Enterprise Institute. But the bet "is likely to pay off" for Obama. Clinton is a reminder — especially to working-class whites — that Democratic policies have led to economic boom times in the past. Also, "it generally doesn't hurt to have a guy who's intensely popular endorse you and sing your praises on primetime TV."
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Clinton is the only man for the job: Is featuring Clinton smart politics or "a sign the president is desperate to have the most high-wattage Democrat at the convention in order to draw more attention to his campaign?" asks Jena McGregor at The Washington Post. "It may be a little bit of both." But let's face the facts: Clinton is the only two-term Democratic president alive, and "if you're president and you're looking for the person who can make the best case for your candidacy, it's the person who really knows what it's like to be commander in chief."
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