Debbie Lodge, a retired librarian from Summerville, South Carolina, voted twice for Bill Clinton for president. “He was a breath of fresh air,” she said. “And he was an excellent president.”
This year, though, she isn’t voting for his wife, Hillary Clinton. Lodge strongly supports Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for president.
Democrats still love Bill Clinton 15 years after he left office – some of them more than they love Hillary Clinton.
What’s unclear is whether he’s convincing voters to back his wife for the Democratic nomination. A majority of Americans, including 73 percent of Democrats, say Bill Clinton is not a factor in their opinion of Hillary Clinton, according to a Reuters poll released in January.
But he remains so popular that even opponents don’t criticize him much.
At the start of the year, Republican front-runner Donald Trump tried to use Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs, particularly with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, against him. But there’s no evidence that the criticism worked, and Trump has largely stopped those attacks.
Jeri Cabot, 61, dean of students at the College of Charleston, acknowledged there’s always “a little shadow cast” on Clinton because of his history with women, but she said voters examined the whole person. “He has an issue there; I wouldn’t whitewash it,” she said. But she added, “We look at promises made and kept, accomplishments, what was delivered to the country.”
After largely sitting out the start of Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for the White House, Bill Clinton now is constantly on the road, hopscotching from one state to another and headlining a flurry of fundraisers for her across the United States. He’s particularly popular in South Carolina, whose Democratic primary is next Saturday, and other Southern states with large populations of blacks and moderate whites.
At his events, he speaks of Hillary Clinton as “the single greatest change maker.” He usually lingers afterward – shaking hands, taking selfies and signing autographs – for longer than most candidates do. It’s not uncommon to find supporters of Sanders there.
I’d take them both. Two for the price of one! Bonnie Alexander, 65, a retired teacher from Charleston
His supporters don’t seem to mind that the former president doesn’t give the same passionate speeches he did when he was in office, or even as recently as 2012, when he campaigned for President Barack Obama. Or that he looks older than his 69 years, following quadruple heart-bypass surgery and a drastic change in his diet. And that he occasionally causes headaches for his wife when he says something her campaign wishes he hadn’t.
Claire Teuber, 55, speaks for many Democrats when she says she adores Bill Clinton. The schoolteacher from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, points to the strong economy he left behind after departing the White House.
“He did so much for our country,” she said. “He left this place in much better shape than he found it.”
In recent weeks, as his wife’s campaign has suffered setbacks, Clinton has gotten aggressive on the campaign trail, causing some trouble for her campaign. He’s criticized Sanders’ policies, particularly health care and his goal to create a “political revolution.” He’s accused Sanders of hypocrisy for criticizing Hillary Clinton for accepting money from Wall Street when the senator has benefited from the same type of money raised by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps Democratic Senate candidates with their campaigns. He compared Sanders supporters to the tea party.
It’s a tactic he’s mostly tried to avoid after finding himself in trouble for his impolitic remarks when Hillary Clinton ran the first time, in 2008.
Last week, Sanders fought back after he said Bill Clinton had made some “very nasty comments about me”: He criticized Clinton’s tenure in the White House for implementing failed trade agreements, deregulating Wall Street and overhauling welfare.
“The hotter this election gets, the more I wish I was just a former president and just for a few months not the spouse of the next one,” Clinton said recently in New Hampshire. “I have to be careful what I say.”
They view him as a statesman and someone who connects with everyone in the party. Doug Thornell, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, which works with Democratic candidates
“I love Bill Clinton now more than I did then,” said Shana Potvin, 39, an art instructor from Bedford, New Hampshire, who attended one of his recent events. “I just love what he has to say. He’s mellowed out from the pressures of being in office.”
Clinton became a coveted Democratic surrogate and delivered such a powerful endorsement of Obama’s record in his 2012 re-election bid that the president dubbed him the “secretary of explaining stuff.”
“He made the case for the president better than the president was able to do,” said Terry Shumaker, a New Hampshire lawyer and longtime Clinton friend who says he’s heard from countless people of both parties that Bill Clinton could get re-elected again.
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Polls show Clinton is more popular than his wife and Obama. Fifty-three percent of people have a positive view of him, while 46 percent hold a negative one, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in January.
The Republicans tried to crush him and they could not. He’s a survivor. Quin Middleton, 44, of Charleston
Even veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye described Clinton as valuable for Democrats because he can garner plenty of media attention and raise a significant amount of money. “He is the best surrogate she can have,” he said. “There is no downside.”