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Clinton to Headline Democratic Retreat With Thursday Talk on Party Values, Campaign Strategy

Former President Bill Clinton, still the Democrats’ most prominent and perhaps divisive figure, will make a star appearance at the House Democratic retreat this weekend.

Clinton, who left office in January 2001, will speak to Members on the first night of the getaway, designed to help the minority party plot strategy and design a message for the 108th Congress. Thursday’s sessions will focus on Democratic electoral losses in 2002 and how the party can win in the future.

While the substance of Clinton’s remarks is yet unknown, Democratic sources said they expect he will try to bring the Caucus together and talk about Democratic core values. Those sources also said they anticipate Clinton will give House Democrats advice on how to win back that chamber in 2004.

“It would be great to hear from him why we are Democrats, what unites us and what makes us great as a party,” said a leadership aide.

“He, like no other, energized our party,” the staffer continued. “He energized us in the past and will continue as a private citizen to energize our party in the future.”

While Clinton enjoyed success in his two terms, he also met with some personal failings after lying about his relationship with a White House intern. That incident led to his impeachment by the House in 1998, but Clinton ultimately retained the presidency with an acquittal from the Senate. And some Democratic candidates avoided linking themselves to the former president during the 2000 campaign cycle.

Democratic aides said Monday that even with Clinton’s past shortcomings, he is an exceptional communicator and political mastermind who can provide great guidance to Democrats. “President Clinton is gong to have a forward-looking approach,” said another leadership aide.

“I don’t think our party should be hung up on what the outside world thinks of the former president,” said the Democratic staffer. “I think it’s very important to get his views.”

“I sincerely doubt you’d get anyone saying it’s a bad idea to get Clinton to [give a speech],” the aide added.

Said another top Democratic aide: “This guy is brilliant and he knows politics better than anyone.”

The former president, who wins lofty retainers for speeches worldwide, will not receive a fee for his participation in the retreat. He isn’t expected to attend other retreat sessions beyond the Thursday-evening speech.

The retreat spans from Thursday to Saturday at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. See Wednesday’s edition of Roll Call newspaper for more on the retreat.

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