Will former President Bill Clinton's last-minute campaigning for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry give him enough of a "Bubba-bounce" to land an election victory?
Clinton heads to New Mexico and his home state of Arkansas this weekend, hoping to generate some momentum for Kerry in the last days before the Nov. 2 election. The former president, who is recovering from a Sept. 6 quadruple heart bypass surgery, came off the political sidelines earlier this week to campaign for Kerry in the hotly contested states of Pennsylvania and Florida.
With various polls showing the race between Kerry and President Bush close, both campaigns were relying on added political star power to gain an edge among voters. While Clinton campaigned for Kerry, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hit the trail for Bush.
Some political observers believe Kerry's use of Clinton will be vital to energizing Democratic voters and key to swaying black voters who overwhelmingly support Clinton and the Democratic Party but may feel ambivalence toward the Massachusetts senator.
"The purpose of bringing Bill Clinton out will be to encourage heavy voter turnout, to get the word out to vote," said Bruce Altschuler, chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York in Oswego. "It won't be used to convert voters -- endorsements actually don't change people's minds or help them decide who to vote for. For a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans can't afford to concede any vote [in this race], and the use of Bill Clinton is more for bringing energy to the party and getting Kerry's base excited.
"Plus, no Democrat has been able to generate excitement among the African-American community as much as Bill Clinton has," Altschuler continued. "They hope he will be able to get the kind of wide turnout among black voters that they hope will go in Kerry's favor."
A recent poll by The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 18 percent of blacks support Bush while 69 percent support Kerry. (Independent candidate Ralph Nader found support in 2 percent of blacks while 11 percent remained undecided). Other recent nationwide polls have found similar results.
The polls still show overwhelming black support for Kerry but they also suggest slippage. Exit polls in the 2000 presidential election showed that Bush only received 10 percent of the black vote nationwide. Some experts believe Bush could gain support from black voters who support his faith-based initiatives and share his opposition to gay marriage.
That's why the Kerry campaign dispatched Al Gore to Florida and hopes Clinton will galvanize black voters and convince them that their vote does matter. Kerry's campaign hopes Clinton will remind all voters of a time of economic prosperity and what their lives and the country were like before Bush's administration. Kerry hopes voters believe a vote for him will be a vote for Clinton and a return to prosperity.
"In the beginning, the Kerry campaign did not really address the national issues that really influence the African-American vote as much as he should have," said Andrew Taylor, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University. "With people worried about their jobs, you will probably see Kerry remind voters of the Clinton years and ask them things like, 'How did you feel then and how do you feel now?' If you want to return to a time of prosperity and you like the way you felt then, then vote for me. I'm your guy. But if you like the way you feel now, then vote for Bush."
Some also believe that Kerry took notes from Gore's 2000 bid for the presidency and has attempted to avoid making the mistakes the former vice president made.
Gore used Clinton sparingly in his campaign. It is believed that Gore did not want to be overshadowed by Clinton and saw his tainted legacy -- particularly the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- as problematic baggage.
"Gore's advisers probably told him they saw Bill Clinton as more of an ambivalent figure because of the Lewinsky scandal than as an asset. But I think in the course of eight years, Clinton and his administration has been associated with a period of tremendous prosperity," said Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University who has studied political psychology.
One concern among Democrats is that Clinton's emergence could galvanize conservative Republicans who may not overwhelmingly favor Bush but are opposed to the former president and his allies, including Kerry. They would come out in big numbers on Election Day and vote for Bush.
"One downside about Clinton is the hatred some of his opponents had for him," Altschuler said. "He could incite some Republicans into remembering how much they disliked him and getting out to the polls. But on balance, the net gain for Kerry is positive."
In some ways, Kerry shouldn't need a boost from the Clinton mystique.
On paper, he has the traditional pedigree for the presidency. Reared in a wealthy, traditionally nuclear family, he's an American blue blood and a decorated war veteran who has had more than 20 years of public service in the Senate. Clinton grew up poor in a broken family, avoided service in the Vietnam War and survived an embarrassing sex scandal with a Washington intern that would have ended most other presidencies.
Yet, Clinton seems more popular than ever. Some political observers have said that support for Kerry stems more from dislike of Bush than genuine fondness for Kerry. Perhaps Clinton's rags-to-riches story, his flaws and his naturally down-to-earth oratory style generate the passion in his supporters that the sometimes disconnected, erudite Kerry has craved.
"Given his background, his charisma and an ability to touch people, he has a story that more African-Americans -- and working-class people -- can relate to and appreciate," said Taylor. "Kerry has been seen as less intuitive, more intellectual. What Clinton does is soften Kerry for people."
"Clinton has a combined intellect and ability to communicate to everyone from a Harvard professor to a waitress in a diner," said Westen. "Really, only one other person in modern American history has been able to move people with the kind of charisma and emotion of Clinton and that was Ronald Reagan."
Clinton's influence on Kerry began before he joined him on the campaign trail this week.
After critics said he was too slow to respond to Swift Boat ads that attacked his war record, Kerry hired several former Clinton aides and advisers -- including Democratic strategist and commentator James Carville and former White House press secretaries Joe Lockhart and Mike McCurry -- to reinvigorate his campaign. During the presidential debates, Kerry avoided the long-winded, perhaps overly intellectual answers that had become his trademark (and a punch line for comedians) and relied on shorter, more direct replies that arguably spoke more to his audiences' emotions or issues they could relate to.
In addition, Kerry has attacked Bush more aggressively. From American casualties in Iraq to record high oil prices to the flu vaccine shortage and this week's reports of hundreds of tons of explosives gone missing in Iraq, Kerry has reacted almost instantly to headlines and news flashes that show potential weaknesses in the president's administration. Bush, in turn, accused Kerry of making "wild charges" without knowing all the facts.
"I think one of the things that [Kerry campaign advisers] Mary Cahill and Bob Shrum were slow to realize was the people tend to vote on their gut feeling about a candidate, not necessarily their public policies," Westen said. "The Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the unrest in Iraq [in July and August] came and went with Kerry hardly saying anything. Now, Kerry's had a complete transformation, attacking Bush on the weapons depot and using words like 'incompetent.'"
Clinton's campaign efforts, especially in the wake of his recent heart surgery, may also help Kerry by giving him a courage infusion.
Opponents have labeled Kerry a "flip-flopper" because of his vacillating -- or often complex -- stances on issues such as the Iraq war and gay marriage. The Swift Boat ads challenged Kerry's honesty, courage and convictions and his relatively slow response to the attacks didn't help him.
"Clinton's campaigning for Kerry so soon after heart surgery could be seen as courageous, and any association he [Kerry] has courage can only help him," said Westen.
However, despite being a decorated war hero, Kerry still faces challenges to his leadership skills, bravery and beliefs. Clinton's support helps, political observers say, but Kerry himself must convince undecided voters that he can lead the country in a time of terrorism fears and economic uncertainty.
"In the end, John Kerry's going to have to win this election by himself," ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin told ABC News Radio. "It's up to John Kerry to do his own heavy lifting. And if Bill Clinton helps focus the spotlight on him, that's what the Kerry campaign's looking for."
If Kerry's bid for the White House fails, critics say it will not be because of Clinton. The former president will remain an asset to his party and his mystique will still be intact.
"If Kerry loses, it will be despite Clinton, not because of Clinton," Taylor said.