If you’re keeping score of who is better at getting Democrats elected this cycle, President Obama is 0-for-4 while former president Bill Clinton is golden at 2-for-2.
Last fall’s gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, and this year’s U.S. Senate races in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, proved Obama impotent at influencing voters.
Conversely, Clinton’s performances for Democrat Mark Critz in last month’s special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., and for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., in her squeaker of a primary last week, were nothing short of brilliant.
Villanova University political science professor Lara Brown says the Obama-Clinton relationship “is complicated. Both are politicians of enormous stature whose reputations are made daily in the competitive and constantly changing world of politics.”
Their relationship is not unlike that between the dollar and gold: While the valuations of each change daily and the connections are not always evident, they almost always trend in opposite directions.
In an election year full of disconnect between Main Street and Washington, each man symbolizes specific constituencies with different visions of their party.
Clinton represents the common-man, blue-collar-worker middle class – those who work hard and play by the rules, who view themselves as fighters who dig in and don't give up.
“Clinton also represents the pragmatic side of politics,” Brown said, “the side which does not adhere to ideological tenets, the side that is interested in winning.”
Clinton can be clumsy, not cool (although he liked to think he was just like Elvis, playing his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992). According to Brown, that is “part of why many Americans feel like they can relate to him.”
Obama represents the party’s intellectual elite and ideological progressives. He is a cool hipster who knows about technology. (Remember, this is the guy who did not want to give up his Blackberry when he became president, despite security concerns.)
He is intellectually sophisticated and likes to surround himself with those at the cutting edge of cultural trends: musicians, artists, technology whiz-kids. He eats arugula, drinks Chablis, and has “date nights” in trendy D.C. restaurants.
Clinton is all about the heart and emotion; Obama seems to be about the brain and intellect.