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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hardly a Close Ally, Clinton Teams With Obama to Raise Cash and Votes

MCLEAN, Virginia (Reuters) - Former U.S. president Bill Clinton campaigned alongside Barack Obama for the first time in the 2012 race on Sunday, making an impassioned appeal to re-elect the White House incumbent and helping his fellow Democrat raise more than $2 million.

A white-haired and noticeably svelte Clinton, 65, pounded the podium with his fingers and palms and gestured vividly while addressing about 500 Obama supporters outside the Virginia home of his friend and Democratic advisor Terry McAuliffe.

"Barack Obama deserves to be re-elected," Clinton told the crowd in his signature raspy voice, warmly introducing the man who was the main rival to his wife Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries.

"I think he's done a good job," Clinton said. "We are moving this country forward, we are going the right direction under President Obama's leadership."

When he took the outdoor podium, Obama, 50, noted Clinton's "remarkable" economic record in his two White House terms and referred frequently to the political powerhouse standing behind him, who stands to be a huge fundraising force in the final months of this year's campaign.

David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime strategist, said the joint efforts show that the two men have forged a strong relationship over the last four years. “When you’re president, there are very few people to whom you can turn who really ‘get’ what the job demands,” Mr. Axelrod said. “President Clinton has been the source of very good advice, and very meaningful support.”

Privately, Democrats portray the evolving alliance as more utilitarian. “Once Obama’s out of office, I doubt they’ll take family vacations together,” said a former Clinton aide who has also worked for Mr. Obama and asked not to be named to avoid offending either man. “But Clinton thinks it’s critical for the country that he gets re-elected, and will do whatever he can to see that that happens.”

Another Democrat who has worked for both men said: “There’s no love lost. But Bill Clinton is not stupid. He knows if he can give a little of his 60-percent-plus approval rating halo to Obama, and Obama does well, that only helps Clinton. And it helps the missus if she wants to run.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to Mr. Obama in 2008 only to join his cabinet as secretary of state, has made clear that she will step down after this term no matter what happens in the fall election. But in recent months, people in the Clinton orbit said she has left the door more open to running for president again in 2016, a campaign that would benefit from Mr. Obama’s good will.

By many accounts, the president and the secretary of state get along fairly well despite their epic clash four years ago. He felt comfortable enough teasing her during his comic performance at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night, referring to pictures of her drinking a beer during a recent trip to Colombia.

“Four years ago, I was locked in a brutal primary battle with Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Obama said. “Four years later, she won’t stop drunk-texting me from Cartagena.”

Paradoxically, it has been the relationship between the two presidents that has been more awkward. At times, Mr. Obama has kept Mr. Clinton at a distance; at others, he has called on him for help, as he did after Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterm elections.

A classic example of the complicated dynamic came last year when Mr. Clinton published a book titled “Back to Work,” offering very public advice about how to fix the economy. At first, the book rankled the Obama camp, which felt blindsided by its publication and privately complained that it made it seem as if the current president needed guidance. Eventually, after reading it, though, the irritation dissipated and the president’s advisers concluded that it was O.K. for them.

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