The Bill Clinton Factor: Boon or Liability?

As Bill takes on a big role in his wife's campaign, where will he draw the line?

ByABC News

Jan. 21, 2008— -- As an enormous asset to Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign, former President Clinton is skilled and popular, but his recent outbursts have raised questions about how far is too far. It has led some observers to believe that has become more of a liability.

His recent comments have angered the black community, a point that was made very clear by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

"Yes, this is reality, not fantasy or fairy tales," Franklin said, just a few feet away from Clinton, while discussing the likelihood of a black man becoming president.

It was a direct attack to a comment Clinton had made earlier: "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," he said.

Clinton has criticized the record of the black candidate running for president, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., calling into question whether Obama has flip-flopped on his position on the Iraq War.

This set off a chain reaction, as Obama fired back at Clinton on "Good Morning America," Monday morning, by calling Clinton's statements "troubling."

"This has become a habit, and one of the things that we're gonna have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate," Obama said in the interview.

Clinton used it as an opportunity to take another stab at Obama being unfaithful to the Democratic Party, citing Obama's courting voters in Nevada, and his praising of Ronald Reagan.

"Our principal opponent said, since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas. I'm not making this up, folks," Clinton told a crowd in Las Vegas last Friday.

Obama's comment in question: "I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there, over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom."

Clinton hasn't only angered the black community and his wife's presidential opponent, but he's also gotten into hot water with some other prominent Democrats over his statements — including members of Hillary's campaign. However, the attacks seem to be working.

"He gets bad press, but he also gets out a message against Obama that hits home," ABC News political analyst Mark Halperin said.

Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson agrees, and pointed out Hillary's success, thus far, in the primary races.

"We won in New Hampshire, we won in Nevada. We're not the campaign that needs to make changes," Wolfson said.

In the past, the record shows that former presidents who have been tempted to insert themselves into political life, have generally failed. For example, in 1960, Harry Truman tried to convince John F. Kennedy not to run.

But times have changed, and it seems as though keeping your friends close doesn't do too much harm, at least for Hillary.

"Bill Clinton, in this instance, is not just a former president, he's not an elder statesman, or even a politician ... he's a husband," presidential historian Richard Norton said.

Another question being debated is Bill's role, should Hillary be elected. Surviving through a marriage that has been a nationally televised psychodrama, spanning the course of two decades, many wonder if Hillary could rule over her husband — even if she wanted to.

"I don't think anybody can rein in Bill Clinton," Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, of Washington, D.C. said.

Bill Clinton isn't expected to remain quiet, despite the angry accusations against him. Many observers note that he may be willing to tarnish his reputation now to help get his wife into the White House — which could only help secure his legacy.

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