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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Clinton's heart: Help or hindrance?
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

Less than two months ago, pundits were speculating that Bill Clinton could prove a hindrance rather than a help to John Kerry's presidential bid.

Bill Clinton
Memories of the Clinton controversies have faded

There was talk of the flamboyant former president - with his famous golden glow - outshining the more aloof Massachusetts senator.

And if he wasn't drawing attention to the candidate's charisma deficit, so the worry went, his very presence would conjure up memories of the scandal over that dress - strengthening perceptions of a Democratic moral deficit.

If not that, fretted others still, Mr Clinton was not sufficiently committed to the Kerry cause. He had after all initially been seen as a supporter of Wesley Clark - and where would the spotlight shift if Mr Kerry's bid failed? Hillary Clinton, of course.

But the former president's heart surgery has put paid to any immediate plans for him to campaign for the Democrat nominee and shifted concerns to the opposite end of the spectrum - can John Kerry do it without the Clinton contribution?

Domestic themes

It has not been a good week for Mr Kerry, who in the aftermath of the Republican convention is now languishing about 10 points behind President George Bush, according to two magazine polls.

Attacks on his military record during the Vietnam war - which he had made a centrepiece of his bid - are seen as one of the reasons his campaign may be foundering.

The focus on national security, the Republicans' preferred theme, has stopped issues such as the economy and healthcare from dominating the headlines.

He thinks that he can be back on the campaign trail in four or five weeks
James Carville,
former Clinton aide
These are subjects on which the Democrats are believed to be stronger.

It had been hoped that putting Mr Clinton on the campaign trail would be an excellent way of refocusing attention onto domestic issues.

Memories of the controversies of Mr Clinton's tenure - one of the reasons why the 2000 Democrat contender Al Gore sought to limit Mr Clinton's role in his own campaign - have receded, replaced by warmer recollections of "easy money, easy existence and an easygoing president", in the words of one observer.

During Mr Clinton's eight years in office, the economy expanded by 50% and the unemployment rate dropped by half to 4%, a 40-year-low.

The figure has crept up to 5.4% under President Bush - a fact the Democrats want to put squarely into the spotlight.

In the light of Mr Kerry's current problems, analysts agree that losing a politician who can merge memories of the good old days with a sharp political argument, while delivering them in his hallmark homespun style, would certainly be a blow to the Democratic bid.

Yet if Mr Clinton is well enough to re-emerge in the final weeks leading up to the vote, his heart problems could in fact prove a blessing in disguise.

Sympathy vote

Medical experts quoted in the American press differ on exactly how long the president will have to lie up for - and indeed whether joining the campaign trail would count as the "moderate activity" recommended for heart surgery patients in the weeks after their operations.

John Kerry campaigning in Ohio
Ex-Clinton aides are helpful - but the man himself would be better
But a former aide, political consultant James Carville, said the ex-president hopes to be on his feet quickly. "He thinks that he can be back on the campaign trail in four or five weeks," he told NBC.

If this were the case, the high drama and publicity that would surround his return - with just two or three weeks to go - could, according to at least some observers, prove invaluable.

And it has also been suggested even if he should not be fit for the stump, he could deliver campaign messages from his hospital bed - potentially attracting the sympathy vote from whatever undecided voters are left by that stage of the game.

Indeed even from his sick bed prior to his operation, Mr Clinton was reportedly administering advice to Mr Kerry.

The two apparently had a long telephone conversation on Saturday night on how to reinvigorate his candidacy.

Mr Kerry, who already has former Clinton advisers on his team, has enlisted further figures from that era to help shape his strategy and message for the remainder of the campaign.

But neither Mr Clinton's advice nor his advisers, analysts agree, would be quite the same as having the man himself on the campaign trail.

Bush sets out re-election vision
03 Sep 04  |  Americas


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