Former President Bill Clinton has reemerged as a top surrogate for the Democratic Party this election cycle after being sidelined from the campaign trail during the #MeToo era.
Clinton, whose moderate brand of politics in the 1990s made him the first Democrat to win two straight presidential elections since the New Deal, is traversing the country boosting vulnerable members of his party ahead of the midterms. The former president was in New York over the past week rallying Democrats for incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul and several House Democrats in tight races.
‘Honored to have President Bill Clinton’s support in the fight to secure a brighter future for all New Yorkers,’ Hochul said during a get-out-the-vote event in Brooklyn.
Vulnerable Democrats are also embracing Clinton from Nevada to Texas at a time when President Biden has kept a much lighter schedule than what would be expected from a sitting president. During a campaign stop in New Jersey for Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the three-term incumbent House Democrat proudly proclaimed his district was ‘Clinton country.’
The former president is scheduled to make a last-minute campaign swing through south Texas for vulnerable Democrats. During the trip, Clinton will rally with Rep. Henry Cuellar and Democratic candidate Michelle Vallejo – each of whom is locked in a difficult contest with Republicans.
‘We’re excited because if there’s anyone who could motivate people to go vote it is President Clinton,’ said Cuellar, D-Texas. ‘We’re excited to have him rally up the vote here in south Texas.’
The reception Clinton is getting on the campaign trail pales in comparison to the former president’s treatment directly after the 2016 election. Then, as allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct reverberated between Washington and Hollywood, Clinton was seen as a problematic figure.
Some Democrats struggled as they tried to reconcile Clinton’s political prowess and presidential accomplishments with his affair with 24-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton’s presence ‘just brings up a lot of issues that will be very tough for Democrats,’ Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told Politico in 2018. ‘And I think we all have to be clear about what the #MeToo movement was.’
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told the New York Times that Clinton should have resigned at the height of the affair.
‘Democrats were caught between a rock and a hard place,’ said Brad Bannon, a Democratic political strategist. ‘They wanted to take a stern line against powerful men, like President Donald Trump and [Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh, that were accused of sexual misconduct, but they felt like they couldn’t do it with Clinton hanging around.’
Clinton has since been linked to Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire who pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution with a minor more than a decade ago and who was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges in 2019 after widespread complaints that his plea bargain was too generous. Epstein was found dead in his jail cell a little more than a month later.
A Clinton spokesperson acknowledged that the former president traveled internationally with Epstein. When asked this week about his connection to Epstein in Texas, Clinton replied, ‘I think the evidence is clear.’
A few years later, such concerns do not seem to matter for some within the party. Requests for comment were not returned from Democratic candidates who have campaigned alongside Clinton and women’s groups that were at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, including the National Organization for Women, Time’s Up, MeToo Movement and the National Women’s Law Center.
Clinton’s reemergence was largely due to the national political environment and Biden’s low popularity ratings. Democrats, who hold narrow control of Congress, are facing an energized Republican Party amid President Biden’s low job approval numbers and 40-year high inflation.
Unlike Biden, Clinton remains widely popular with minority voters and is identified with a moderate brand of politics that makes campaigning for vulnerable Democrats easier.
‘President Clinton is one of those oldies that comes on the jukebox and everyone bobs their head to,’ said Colin Strother, a Texas-based Democratic strategist. ‘Democrats know all about his frailties and foibles and love him anyway. He’s particularly popular in the Hispanic community… [and] continues to be the most effective communicator of Democratic values and priorities.’