Bill Clinton’s Brand Still Strong in Political Sphere
September 25, 2010
by Gerry Tuoti
Taunton Daily Gazette
Nearly a decade after leaving office, former president Bill Clinton remains one of the most influential figures in American politics, many political scientists say.
"Of the presidents who remain alive, the Bill Clinton brand is still very much in the forefront," said Michael Kryzanek, a political science professor at Bridgewater State University. "It's fair to say that he, even more than Barack Obama, has the skill to try to convince the independents and disaffected middle class of the benefits of supporting the Democratic ticket in 2010."
Clinton is scheduled to appear this afternoon at Taunton High School for a political rally featuring Congressman Barney Frank and local Democrats. Meanwhile, Frank's Republican opponent, Sean Bielat, has a rally of his own planned on Taunton Green.
"What Frank is doing is bringing some star power to his campaign to ensure his victory by showing people that Barney Frank is still an active campaigner," Kryzanek said.
As a spokesman for the Democratic party, Clinton, the professor said, is "invaluable."
"I think he's a much better spokesman than the president is in saying why people should vote Democratic," Kryzanek said. "The president can be too distant at times, too professorial. Bill Clinton knows how to present an argument in terms people will understand and appreciate."
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Center for Politics and Public Affairs in Lancaster, Penn., shared his thoughts on why so many people find Clinton's oratory style appealing.
"He has great empathy to people, as opposed to President Obama, who can come across as cold and aloof," Madonna said. "He speaks with emotion as well as conviction and passion. He connects with people."
Madonna went on to say that Clinton's main strength as a campaigner is in his ability to connect with people from all walks of life.
"He's the one Democrat you can take anywhere," Madonna said. "You can take him to blue-collar workers, on campus or to urban areas."
In the midst of an era of war, rising joblessness and economic turmoil, many people have a certain nostalgia for the Clinton era, he added.
"I think people remember the times when he was president as the good old days," he said. "They don't look back on it like he was president during a depression or recession."
Peter Ubertaccio [pictured above], director of the Martin Institute of Law and Society at Stonehill College, said the only recent former president with a similar standing would be Ronald Reagan. Due to declining health and advanced age, however, Reagan largely withdrew from public life for many years.
"(Clinton) is truly unique because he was a successful two-term president who left office as a popular figure," Ubertaccio said. "There's no one else in the Democratic party who rates that highly. The Republicans don't have anyone that's his equivalent."
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, drew from his experience in political polling to comment on Clinton's appearance.
"I think candidates who try to use the Bill Clinton brand are appealing for the most part to middle-aged men, some who are Democrats and some who are independents," Paleologos said. "It suggests to me that maybe Barney Frank's polling could use a boost in those demographics."
Bielat, Frank's opponent, has suggested that scheduling the Clinton appearance is a sign of desperation from Frank's campaign. Frank denies that is the case.
None of the political scientists the Taunton Daily Gazette interviewed think the Frank campaign is in serious danger, though some said the election this year may be closer than in years past.
"I think if it was a Clinton appearance two days before the election, it would probably be viewed as (desperation)," Paleologos said. "I think with five-plus weeks to go, candidates of all parties need to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and would want to bring in figures or high-visibility people to enhance or compliment their own viability."
Ubertaccio added that the fact that Clinton is coming to a traditionally left-leaning state like Massachusetts to campaign, however, may be an indication that the Democratic party's standing is lower than it was. Most pundits are predicting heavy losses for the Democrats nationally.
Clinton has been traversing the country in recent weeks to stump for other Democrats.
"You're going to see more of Bill Clinton in the next month all over the place, and that is clearly part of the Democratic strategy," Kryzanek said. "They see him as someone who can convince people of the importance of maintaining Democratic control."
Madonna said there likely isn't any past president who's campaigned for other candidates as much as Clinton has.
"He's ubiquitous," Madonna said of Clinton. "He's become the go-to guy in the Democratic party. He's bar-none the most popular Democrat in the country."
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