Democrats Seek Clinton’s Counsel

Posted January 23, 2004 at 5:48pm

Former President Bill Clinton will huddle with Democratic Senators this week to help the Caucus sketch out a political plan to execute over the next nine months, as Democrats attempt to regain control of the majority in November.

Clinton “will lead a conversation about 2004” at the Democrats’ annual strategy meeting scheduled for Thursday in the Hart Senate Office Building, Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said in an interview.

“Almost everyone would agree that he is probably one of the most knowledgeable people on a wide array of issues, both foreign policy and domestic policy, of any contemporary politician,” Dorgan said. “He is also an extraordinary strategist and thinker.”

The former president will also help Senate Democrats raise money this year, a senior Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee official confirmed. Already, Clinton has penned a direct-mail piece for the DSCC and is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) next month.

“President Clinton is very supportive of our efforts to take back the Senate and will do what he can within reason,” said Brad Woodhouse, the DSCC’s communications director. “He obviously has a lot of stuff going on nationally and internationally and we only expect to get a fraction of his time, but we will utilize that fraction to its maximum extent.”

Clinton’s meeting with the Senators comes at a time when Democratic leaders are working to find a unified voice in this election year that does not run afoul of the message the party’s eventual presidential nominee will offer.

At the same time, some Democratic incumbents and challengers might need to distinguish themselves from the eventual nominee on certain issues that could be shunned by voters in their respective states.

“I think for those who follow the party line almost exclusively, it is particularly good to hear from him and it is good for somebody such as myself who goes in the other direction a significant portion of the time,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a conservative who frequently votes with Republicans.

Nelson is not up for re-election until 2006, but Democrats need to hold five open Senate seats in the traditionally conservative South as well as protect five incumbents in states where President Bush was the clear victor in 2000 if they hope to have a chance of winning control of the chamber.

Clinton, a former governor of Arkansas, is expected to provide advice on how Senate Democrats can coexist with the eventual presidential nominee.

“He has run for president twice in the last [12] years and one of our thoughts was, ‘How can we be prepared more effectively to consider the political challenges and opportunities there are as a Caucus as we consider this election cycle and coordinate with a presidential campaign effectively,’” Daschle said in an interview. “That will be part of the focus of the discussion. How can we meld our efforts as efficiently and successfully as we can.”

Among the 49 Senators expected to attend the meeting is the former president’s wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who serves as one of Daschle’s leadership advisers.

Last year, Clinton spoke at the House Democratic retreat held at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania.

Since leaving the White House in January 2001, the former president has kept a relatively low profile in Washington, avoiding the appearance of overshadowing his wife. Instead, he has focused his time on writing his memoir and tending to his nonprofit foundation that among other things works to prevent the spread of AIDS.

But the former president has not entirely removed himself from the political world. For example, he speaks to various Democratic presidential candidates who call him seeking advice about the primary. Daschle said it makes sense for Senate Democrats to seek Clinton’s counsel especially in this presidential election year, in which control of the White House and Congress are on the line.

“He is so good and so effective at articulating the Democratic vision for our country,” Daschle said. “I think his advice about how you do that in the current political context and legislative context will be helpful.”

In addition to Clinton’s speech, the Senate Democratic Caucus will also meet with many of their 2004 candidates who are in town for a DSCC sponsored fly-in.