Whose Endorsement Will Matter More: Bill Clinton's or Barack Obama's?


With a national soundtrack of Rage Against the Incumbent, Democrats have good reason to worry about asking President Obama to campaign for them.

Sitting and former presidents are usually cash cows, attracting fundraising dollars and publicity to races their parties are particularly invested in. A recent Quinnipiac poll, however, showed that only 12 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a candidate if Obama had campaigned for him or her. In contrast, 16 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a candidate Sarah Palin had campaigned for. This poll coincided with the first Gallup survey to show Bill Clinton's popularity eclipsing Obama's. 61 percent of respondents viewed Clinton favorably, compared to 52 percent for Obama.

Which prompts the question: Should Democrats rely more heavily on Clinton than Obama in the lead-up to midterms? When the National Journal asked Democratic insiders whether Obama would be an asset or liability to the party in midterm elections, 68 percent said asset and 27 percent said liability. (20 percent of Republican insiders, not surprisingly, said asset, while 77 percent said liability.) One from the first camp added, "Whatever the policy challenges, there is nothing like an incumbent president to raise money." One from the second raised concerns about Obama's popularity in critical regions: "He would be a 'minor' liability except for the specific geographies of the at-risk candidates where he is more often a major liability."

Bill Clinton, however, has proved his power in some of these regions. Sen. Blanche Lincoln's Democratic primary campaign seemed destined for failure until she ran a last-ditch ad featuring Clinton calling out labor unions' attempt to "manipulate" Arkansans' votes; Clinton's sway with African American voters in the state pulled her through (whether it will do the same for her general election match-up against Rep. John Boozman, however, is a different story). Clinton turned Democratic establishment heads when he endorsed Andrew Romanoff, who's challenging Obama-endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado.* No polling has been conducted since the endorsement, but Romanoff's campaign has reported a "Clinton bounce" in donations and volunteering.

Obama, on the other hand, does not yet have any big wins for which he can claim credit. His recent endorsements of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and candidate for U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, did not tip their already struggling races.  

*NB: Bennet is the brother of Atlantic editor James Bennet.  

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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