Democrats hope for Clinton's speedy recovery after surgery

Heart bypass to sideline one of party's leading campaigners for weeks

September 04, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Former President Bill Clinton's heart bypass surgery will likely sideline one of the Democratic Party's premier campaigners for some, if not most, of the fall.

Clinton, who delivered a major speech at the July convention that nominated Sen. John Kerry, had been expected to play a significant role in the campaign, raising money for the Democratic Party and its candidates around the country and helping turn out voters on Election Day.

"It's a detriment if he's laid up for two months," said Democratic pollster Paul Maslin. "If he comes out looking good in two or three weeks, he'll still be a tremendous asset to the ticket."

Assuming the surgery is successful, Clinton will almost certainly be able to perform some of the chores that he has carried out in recent years on behalf of fellow Democrats. For example, he has recorded messages for automated telephone calls that have gone to millions of Democratic voters in the days leading up to elections.

He could also make campaign commercials, sign fund-raising appeals and possibly even begin personal appearances in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 vote. His effectiveness in turning out voters on Election Day could actually be heightened, some Democrats said, by the publicity and the drama that would surround his return to the political trail after major surgery.

Unlike the 2000 election, when Al Gore, his former vice president, wanted Clinton to refrain from high-profile electioneering, the Kerry campaign had been eager for Clinton's assistance. His native home of Arkansas, for example, is a place where Clinton could be particularly helpful.

The huge success of Clinton's memoirs, which have been at or near the top of the best-seller list for over two months, is just one sign of his popularity.

As memories of the controversies surrounding his presidency fade, "he's more effective nowadays than he was four years ago," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant, particularly when it comes to mobilizing Democratic voters.

Debra DeShong, a spokeswoman for Kerry, said it was not clear that Clinton's illness would have any consequences for the Democratic nominee's campaign. "Bill Clinton is an important figure in the Democratic Party, but we expect him to make a speedy recovery," DeShong said.

She said Clinton had also committed to appear at several fund-raising events for the Democratic National Committee.

"I'm sure he was intending to be part of the get-out-the-vote effort in October, and we don't know that he won't be able to do that. With modern medicine, it's certainly possible for him to recover quickly, and we hope and pray that he does," the Kerry spokeswoman said.

In recent years, Clinton has been active in efforts to turn out the party's base, particularly African-Americans, who have always been among his most enthusiastic supporters. If the presidential contest is close, as many in both parties expect, their votes would be of particular importance in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Sun staff writer Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this article.

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