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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Clinton returns to the stage
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Washington

My Life by Bill Clinton
The first print run of 1.5m copies is almost sold out
It is not often that a former US president is compared to Harry Potter, but Bill Clinton the political magician and escape artist is challenging the young wizard at the bookstore.

Advance orders of Mr Clinton's autobiography, My Life, are breaking sales records on Amazon.com and outstripping the sales of the latest instalment of the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix.

The former president is well on his way to selling the first print run of 1.5m copies of his memoirs, and the book doesn't officially go on sale until 22 June.

To promote the book, Mr Clinton has a coast-to-coast book tour planned and will launch a media blitz next week with multiple television appearances.

It marks Mr Clinton's return to the political stage, and some members of his Democratic Party fear that the old charmer will overshadow presidential nominee John Kerry at a critical time in the race for the White House.

Star turn

There were nervous mutterings in the ranks of the Democratic Party this spring as word came that Mr Clinton was close to releasing his memoirs.

Mr Clinton remains the Democratic Party's biggest star, and many feared that the former president would eclipse Mr Kerry.

Mr Clinton has already read excerpts from the book on radio and online for AOL subscribers. He has several high-profile television interviews planned, including a full hour interview on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes and on several morning news programmes.

A political cartoon running this week in the US sums up the fears of some Democrats by showing an ebullient Mr Clinton, arms outstretched, holding up a copy of the book.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry
John Kerry wants Bill Clinton to join him on the campaign
Hidden behind the copy of My Life stands a rather annoyed Mr Kerry, asking: "Do you mind?"

But one Democratic strategist said: "I worry a lot less about Kerry being overshadowed than voters being reminded yet again of some less attractive aspects of Clinton's character."

He said the Democratic Party still suffered from a significant "values deficit" when compared to Republicans as a result the scandals during the Clinton era.

"The early publicity points to a renewed fascination with the president's sex life and that can't be good for Kerry," the strategist said.

But the Clinton and Kerry camps are working together to make the most out of the book release.

Mr Clinton will use his book tours to promote not only his book but also Mr Kerry's campaign.

And Mr Kerry has not run from the Clinton legacy as Al Gore did in the 2000 presidential election.

"I intend to get him to campaign as much as he can," Mr Kerry said recently.

Mr Clinton has promised to end his book tour before the Democratic Party convention, when Mr Kerry officially accepts the presidential nomination.

Temporary boost

But while some Democrats are worried, many believe that Mr Kerry will only be helped by a reminder of the good years under Mr Clinton, even if the former president remains a deeply divisive political figure.

Jim Barnes, political correspondent for the National Journal, polls some 50 Democratic political operatives each week on the issues of the day.

This week he asked them whether they thought Mr Clinton's book tour would overshadow Mr Kerry, or give him a boost.

He confirmed that some feared that Mr Clinton would eclipse Senator Kerry for a while because of the former president's ability to steal the stage.

However "most of my folks think it will give Kerry a modest boost," Mr Barnes added.

"The Clinton book tour will serve as a reminder of what they liked about the Clinton administration. They had peace and prosperity."


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