- Associated Press - Sunday, April 29, 2012

Once a tense rivalry, the relationship between President Obama and Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton has evolved into a genuine political and policy partnership. Both sides have a strong incentive in making the alliance work, especially in an election year.

For Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton is a fundraising juggernaut, a powerful reminder to voters that a Democrat ran the White House the last time the economy was thriving. For the spotlight-loving former president, stronger ties with the White House and campaign headquarters mean he gets a hand in shaping the future of the party he led for nearly a decade.

Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign has put Mr. Clinton on notice that he will be used as a top surrogate, further evidence of how far the two camps have come since the bitter days of the 2008 Democratic primary between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, now his secretary of state.

On Sunday evening in northern Virginia, the current and former president was set to make the first of three joint appearances at fundraisers for Mr. Obama’s campaign.

The host? Terry McAuliffe, a close adviser to both Clintons and one of the most ardent protectors of their political brand.

Mr. Clinton’s willingness to be a good soldier for the Obama campaign could end up paying political dividends for his wife, who is frequently talked about in party circles as a potential presidential candidate in 2016 despite her repeated denials. Mrs. Clinton has benefited enormously from her partnership with Mr. Obama, with her popularity soaring during her time in his Cabinet.

Democrats say the overt signs of unity between the Clintons and Mr. Obama put the president at a distinct advantage over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor must soothe the wounds from his GOP primary fight and figure out whether the previous Republican president, George W. Bush, will have a role in the 2012 race.

Discussions are under way at Mr. Romney’s Boston headquarters about the degree to which Mr. Bush will participate, if at all, in the general election. Many Republicans are reluctant to mention Mr. Bush, who left office deeply unpopular, especially as the Obama campaign seeks to tie Mr. Romney to Mr. Bush’s economic- and foreign-policy positions.

While Mr. Obama and the Clintons are rarely described as friends, people close to them say the relationship has warmed significantly since the 2008 nomination contest. In that race, the former president slammed Mr. Obama’s candidacy as a “fairy tale,” while Mr. Obama sarcastically told Mrs. Clinton that she was “likable enough.”

The thaw started as a matter of political necessity: Their party was desperate to retake the White House after eight years of Republican rule. Mrs. Clinton offered Mr. Obama a gracious endorsement, both Clintons campaigned for Mr. Obama, and the newly elected president picked his former rival to be America’s chief diplomat.

After the Democratic Party was battered in the 2010 elections, Mr. Obama called in Mr. Clinton for an Oval Office meeting. Afterward, the two made an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room to talk to reporters. When Mr. Obama had to leave for a holiday party, Mr. Clinton stuck around, relishing in the attention and the give-and-take with the press.

That day in the briefing room underscored what some Democrats see as their one major worry in pairing Mr. Obama with Mr. Clinton too often. The ease with which Mr. Clinton connects with a range of audiences can call attention to the challenge Mr. Obama sometimes faces in doing the same thing.

But that certainly hasn’t stopped the Obama campaign from seeking Mr. Clinton’s help in winning a second term, and Mr. Clinton has made it clear he is ready and willing.

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