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Politics

Bill Clinton Is the Best Friend Democrats Have for 2014

No political figure has more endorsement power in 2014 than the former president.

(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Segal Family)

photo of Matt  Berman
March 12, 2014

If Democrats can't get Pope Francis to come and campaign with them ahead of this year's midterm elections, they're at least already trotting out the next best thing: Bill Clinton.

It may seem like the former president has been weighing Democrats down as of late, with Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul raising the Monica Lewinsky specter in attempts to flip the "War on Women" narrative against Democrats. But, according to a new poll out from The Wall Street Journal and NBC, Bill Clinton has an approval rating as high as the pope's. Yes, both Clinton and Francis net a 55 percent approval rating.

Clinton is an unparalleled weapon for Democrats running this year. According to the new poll, 37 percent of voters are more likely to vote for a candidate this year if he or she has Clinton's endorsement. Only 27 percent say the opposite. That 10 percent net positive means that the Bill Clinton Stamp of Approvalâ„¢ has the same positive impact on voters as a candidate having a abortion-rights stance (+11), or placing a major emphasis on conservative social and religious views (+13). 

 

That ranking also confirms the former president is a vastly more powerful endorser than his wife. Hillary Clinton has a -9 percent net impact on voters, with 25 percent of voters more likely to vote for a candidate she endorses and 34 percent less likely. An endorsement from President Obama, meanwhile, has a solid net negative of 20 percent, about in line with what support for the tea party does for a candidate (-21).

Democrats aren't holding their special power back. Bill Clinton campaigned for Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes late last month, and he is likely to pop up on campaign trails around the country. That includes coming in to help out Marjorie Margolies, Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law, who is in a tight primary for a House seat in Pennsylvania. Bill Clinton is also planning on stepping in on some more low-profile races, such as Seth Magaziner's bid for Rhode Island general treasurer. Magaziner, like Margolies and Grimes, has close ties to the Clintons.

Bill Clinton's popularity goes past his endorsement power. While 27 percent of registered voters view Clinton very positively, only 10 percent view him very negatively. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is viewed very positively by 23 percent of respondents and very negatively by 22 percent. Of the people and parties WSJ/NBC asked voters about, only Pope Francis had lower "very negative" numbers than Bill Clinton. A Clinton assist isn't going to clinch an election (just ask Florida's Alex Sink), but it has more potential than that of almost anyone else a politician can bring on the trail.

That's tough news for Republicans. It's not just that the GOP doesn't have a political analogue—even if George W. Bush could be helpful on the campaign trail, he's shown very little interest in wading back into politics in his post-presidential life. The big problem here is that Clinton's continued astronomical popularity undercuts attempts by Rand Paul and others to use him against Democratic candidates.

Just before Grimes brought Clinton to Kentucky to campaign, Paul lambasted the former president as a "predator," and said Democrats "ought to be concerned about being associated with him." In a February editorial, National Review wrote that "President Clinton used women for his own ends," although they confess "the fact is that Republicans could not beat the Clintons with this material back when the president was sodomizing interns in the Oval Office and semen-stained dresses were being spirited around Washington."

No matter how hard Paul and other conservatives have tried, Bill Clinton is just not a liability for Democrats heading into this year's elections. He may just be their best asset.

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