In an election campaign dominated by jobs and government spending, former President Bill Clinton — who oversaw a booming economy and the first federal surpluses in decades — has become a symbol of better times that both President Obama and Republicans are trying to tap.
Democrats said Monday that Mr. Clinton officially will renominate the president at the party’s convention in September, a prime-time speech that will go head to head with the NFL’s opening game between the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.
“President Clinton oversaw the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, pursuing many of the same policies that President Obama is proposing and implementing today,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democratic National Convention, to be held Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, N.C. “There is no one better to lay out the choice in this election between moving forward with President Obama or falling backward with Mitt Romney.”
“It’s always been a more challenging group for any president,” said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. “But [Mr. Clinton] comes from that same background, growing up in Arkansas, and he connects better with them as a result.”
Mr. Clinton is the only Democrat to have won two presidential elections in the past 70 years, and broke 12 straight years of a Republican-occupied White House.
He never cracked 50 percent of the vote, each time winning a plurality in a three-way contest, but has greater popularity than most other former presidents, as memories of his accomplishments — such as working with a Republican-led Congress to pass four balanced budgets and welfare reform — have largely outlasted those of the extramarital affair that led to his impeachment.
Democrats hope that Mr. Clinton will energize reliable Democratic voters and, more important, sway undecided voters who were won over by his centrist politics.
Republicans, though, are trying to win those same voters and think Mr. Clinton works to their advantage. They argue that Mr. Obama is too liberal to embrace the bipartisanship that defined much of Mr. Clinton’s tenure.
“There is a huge gap between Bill Clinton’s effort to take the Democratic Party to the center and Barack Obama’s effort to take it to the left,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican who negotiated with Mr. Clinton during the 1990s, said Monday during a campaign stop for Mr. Romney in Virginia. “So I think, in a funny kind of way, having President Clinton at the Democratic convention may highlight the difference between the two choices.”
The Democratic convention should provide the latest step in a reconciliation between the president and Mr. Clinton, who clashed in a fierce 2008 Democratic presidential primary between Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.