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Unlike in 2008, Obama aligns himself closely with Bill Clinton

November 03, 2012|By Christi Parsons and Michael A. Memoli
  • Former President Clinton greets supporters after speaking in support of President Obama during a campaign event in Fort Myers, Fla.
Former President Clinton greets supporters after speaking in support… (Scott McIntyre / Naples…)

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- President Obama is aligning himself with President Clinton so fully these days that it sometimes looks like he’s running for his predecessor's third term.

At the heart of Obama's case for reelection is the argument that Democratic economic philosophy works for the middle class, as anyone can see by looking back to the eight-year period when America had a president "who shared our beliefs."

“His name was Bill Clinton,” Obama says in his current stump speech, now playing all over Ohio. “His economic plan asked the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so we could reduce our deficit and invest in the skills and ideas of our people."

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Clinton’s vision created 23 million new jobs and led to the “biggest surplus in our history," Obama says. "So we know what we want to do works. We know what they want to do doesn't work."

To those who followed Obama’s 2008 campaign, it’s a stark tonal shift – if not a substantive one – from when Obama used the “change” mantra not just against the record of George W. Bush, but against his primary opponent.

Obama drew the ire of the former president when he argued in a newspaper interview that it was Ronald Reagan who “changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and that Bill Clinton did not.”

As he campaigned for his wife four years ago, Clinton said his “legs fell out” when he read the quote, and spun it as Obama arguing that Republicans “were the party of new ideas.”

"So now it turns out you can choose between somebody who thinks our ideas are better or the Republicans had all the good ideas,” Clinton told a Nevada audience in the run-up to those state’s primaries.

The Obama-Clinton relationship has thawed considerably, of course. Clinton's nominating speech at the Democratic National Convention was seen as perhaps the single-biggest driver of Obama’s early September bounce in the polls.

And Clinton is campaigning as much, if not more than any other Democrat, including Obama himself. He has five stops planned in Florida on Friday. He’ll join Obama on Saturday night in Virginia and Sunday morning in New Hampshire.

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According to a Clinton aide, the former president will have attended 49 Obama campaign events through Monday, and raised almost $7 million for his reelection.

The Obama team explains the Obama-Clinton fusion as one about a shared philosophy.

"One thing we as a country should do is learn from experience, and I think most Americans do," said David Axelrod, a senior advisor to Obama. "It's a very clear parallel."

But where Bill Clinton is involved, personality is inevitably a factor.

Speaking to an audience in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Friday, Clinton spoke woefully of the pitiful state of the economy when Obama took office.

"Nobody, nobody, nobody – not me, not anybody else – could have repaired all the damage that was done in four years ,” he said.

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christi.parsons@latimes.com

twitter.com/cparsons

michael.memoli@latimes.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

Parsons reported from Springfield, Memoli from St. Petersburg, Fla.

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