Why it might be safe — or at least, safer — to be seen with Bill Clinton

Cock an ear toward downtown Atlanta and listen closely.

That sound you don’t hear is the pitter-patter of Democratic footsteps running away from Bill Clinton.

Former President Bill Clinton/Associated Press

Former President Bill Clinton/Associated Press

The former president arrives Thursday evening as the star of a fundraiser for Mike Thurmond, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. The base price of entry is a solid grand —$2,400 if you want a photo with the great man.

Thurmond is running against Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson, the best-funded candidate on the November ballot, and could use the cash.

Clinton’s visit comes a neat month after a similar foray South by President Barack Obama — which prompted weeks of debate over who could afford to be seen with him, and who couldn’t.

Democratic nominee for governor Roy Barnes decided he ought to be seen elsewhere.

Clinton has set off no similar talk of a stampede.

Polling hints at, but does not fully explain the difference between the two men.

Earlier this summer, a national survey by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina indicated that only slightly more voters were turned off by an endorsement from Obama (49 percent) than from Clinton (43 percent).

Race, of course, must be factored in. But a pair of other attributes may be more important, especially in the South. First, there’s accent. Clinton is from around here — and has a history.

Thurmond first met Clinton – then president — in the mid-1990s, while director of the state Department of Family and Children Services. “I was appointed there by [Gov.] Zell Miller to lead welfare reform in Georgia,” Thurmond remembered.

The issue was a cornerstone of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, neatly co-opted by Clinton and signed in 1996. “Democrats in general were not that warm to welfare reform,” Thurmond said. “Georgia was one of the few Democratic states leading the way.”

The fact that Thurmond was African-American probably wasn’t lost on the president, either. The president brought Thurmond to Washington as an expert witness on the need for federal welfare reform – at one point introducing the Georgian to Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in turn hustled Thurmond across the water to chat with members of Parliament on the same topic.

Clinton invited Thurmond to join his administration, Thurmond said. But he decided to run for state labor commissioner instead.

Still, the relationship was there. Thurmond sided with Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary — and stuck with her until the last dog died in the South Dakota primary. At which time Thurmond, a “superdelegate” to the nominating convention, became a loyal fan of Obama.

“I ain’t running from President Obama. I’m not one of those,” said Thurmond, who attended Obama’s August fundraiser in Atlanta for the Democratic National Convention.

But Thurmond admitted there is something different about Clinton that sets him apart, a second attribute. History has judged Clinton a success.

“He’s the best politician of his generation, bar none,” Thurmond said. “Not only does he have charisma and not only can he excite people, but he also has the intellect to transform those ideas into substantive policies and law.

“The last time we had a surplus, the last time we were generating millions of jobs was when President Clinton was in the White House,” the Democratic nominee for Senate said. “That’s just a fact that can’t be argued with.”

Clinton’s tactics appeal to Thurmond even now. “He saw the importance of recreating a more centrist Democratic party,” the labor commissioner said. “Things happen in the middle in politics. Not on the extreme left, not on the extreme right.”

Heath Garrett, a spokesman for Isakson, wondered whether the short notice given for Clinton’s visit — news of the fundraiser became public on Monday — was designed to curb Republican chatter about the former president’s visit.

Nonetheless, Garrett said the differences between Obama and Clinton are so small as to be insignificant.

“The Isakson campaign and the Republican party as a whole welcome any and all Democratic party officials to the state of Georgia to campaign on behalf of Mr. Thurmond or former Gov. Barnes or anybody else,” he said.

Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, didn’t exactly disagree. He said Thurmond’s key to victory will be to keep white Democrats in the fold, and attract the support of white independents.

“There’s some potential Clinton could help on those fronts,” Jensen said. But if the race were closer, Jensen said he would encourage the candidate to keep Clinton away.

Which raises an obvious question: Where will Roy Barnes be tomorrow evening? At a baseball game, watching his grandson, a campaign spokesman said.

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

12 comments Add your comment

itpdude

September 8th, 2010
7:22 pm

Let’s get real: What Republican wants to be seen with W or Cheney or Rice or any of that crowd?

That’s politics, baby. Plus, W will be remembered as a failure.

SixGun

September 8th, 2010
7:50 pm

itpdude – Are you some kind of jack-leg historian, or just the run-of-the-mill BS’er?

Jenny Lee

September 8th, 2010
8:29 pm

unless you are monica or kathleen willy.

Chief Wiggum

September 8th, 2010
8:36 pm

I find this comment offensive and unfounded. Jim, in relating the relative popularity of Clinton versus Obama, you said:

“Race, of course, must be factored in”

Why is that? Some long-held notion that anybody that disagrees with Obama is some kind of racist? Maybe people feel that while Clinton was a very flawed person in his personal life, his governing style was more moderate than Obama’s. Nah…that can’t be it…gotta be the RACE of the two men. Even Thurmond “gets it” in mentioning Clinton’s centrist governing.

Clinton has low numbers based on his personal (lack of) morals, and Obama’s numbers are low due to his (so far) horrible attempt to manage the economy by throwing wads of cash at it.

go vols

September 8th, 2010
9:01 pm

Amen Chief Wiggum……the comment is offensive and unfounded.

Willx

September 8th, 2010
9:51 pm

I knew he was a liberal bed wetter, but didn’t know Jim Galloway is a racist. Learn something new everyday. Still can’t figure out who the “great man” in his story is.

StJ

September 8th, 2010
10:12 pm

It’s safer to be seen with Clinton – as long as you’re not an intern…

Bitter EX democrackkk

September 9th, 2010
6:28 am

STRIVE to be SMARTER than the original democrackkk party of SLAVERY wants you to be!

[...] Political Insider’s Jim Galloway explains that Clinton is generally regarded in a better light  in these parts than Obama. “First, there’s accent. Clinton is from around here — and has a history,” Galloway writes.  Thurmond, who faces a well-financed U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in the November election, also has a long history as a supporter of both Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. [...]

[...] is in town Thursday for a Thurmond fundraiser. See Jim Galloway’s Political Insider advancer on the [...]

Welshie

September 10th, 2010
12:06 pm

Folks, we’re all Americans. we should want everyone working and doing well–regardess of your race or political party. Republicans and the Glenn Beck’s of this world are too focused on who wins and who loses. They think politics is Monday night football. It is not. (Pun intended toward Isakson’s latest ad).

Georgia needs someone in the U.S. Senate to focus on solutions that will make every American a winner. I believe that person is Mike Thurmond. He’s a good man and high performing public servant.

Most of talk from Republicans and the Tea Party are just empty words. They have no idea what they are talking about. The talk about cutting government but don’t want to touch defense or mention any specific program. They talk about helping businesses but won’t support HR 4849 and HR 5893. They talk about how important families are, but don’t believe in making front end investments in families to make poor people less dependent on government. They talk, talk, talk.

Their real intent is appeal to your emotions through fear and misinformation. All they care about is power for the sake of power and keeping their friends rich. I think they are more concerned about keeping their own jobs rather than helping Americans find jobs. It’s ashame.

Georgia already has a conservative in Saxby Chambliss, we don’t need another.

We need a balance from Georgia. We need someone who can help put people back to work. Mike has been labor commissioner for seven years and is over-qualified for the job.

Don’t let the fear peddlers think for you. Do your homework, read the facts, then decide for yourself. And for goodness sake, STOP LISTENING TO ONLY CONVERSATIVES. GET A BALANCE TO YOUR NEWS, TRY NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO.

Lastly, ask yourself one question. Are you better off now then you were when Isakson got elected six years ago? The answer is most likely no. He want’s to go backward and continue the same policies that got us in this mess. I ain’t hearing it. You can’t continue to do the same thing and expect to get different results. It’s going to take time people. I’m willing to talk to any voter who want’s to discuss policy. I’ll convince you to support Mike. Call me any time. 404-665-7605. When I say I’m supporting Mike, I really mean it.

calvinb

September 10th, 2010
7:01 pm

Instead of writing a significant article about the issues and the policy differences between do nothing Johnny and get the Job Done Thurmond, you choose to write this b.s. that makes no sense.

Talk about the issues between the two men. Its obvious that unless Mike does something stupid, he should get an enormours number of the black vote that make up 50% of the total vote. Now if we can get the regular demcratic votes of progressives and well meaning Liberal Repbublicans, Mike will WALTZ his way in to VICTORY come NOVEMBER!!!! THE AJC needs to hire some ‘WITH IT” Reporters and get away from these “GOOD OLE BOY REPORTING TRYING TO FLAME RACIAL FLAMES.”