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Bill Clinton aims to help Democrats retain Congress

* 'Comeback Kid' seeks to keep party ahead at vote
/ Source: Reuters

* 'Comeback Kid' seeks to keep party ahead at vote

* Remains popular, especially among Democrats

By Thomas Ferraro

Bill "The Comeback Kid" Clinton is trying to help fellow Democrats rebound from poor public opinion ratings and retain control of the U.S. Congress in Nov. 2 elections.

The former president helped Senator Blanche Lincoln overcome anti-incumbent fervor and win a bruising Democratic primary in their home state of Arkansas on June 8.

Last month, Clinton provided a hand in snuffing out Republican hopes of picking up a seat in the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania by stumping for Mark Critz, the Democrat who went on to win the race.

"A lot of people still like Bill Clinton, particularly Democrats," said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown. "They remember the Clinton years as prosperous and relatively peaceful."

A Democratic Party aide said scores of House and Senate candidates have requested help from Clinton, who left office in 2001 with the U.S. enjoying record budget surpluses that have since become record deficits.

Clinton campaigned this month for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he fights for political survival in Nevada, and has helped Senate Democratic candidates in Florida and New York.

"We're going to take as much of Bill Clinton as we can get," said Senator Robert Menendez, the Senate Democratic campaign chairman. "No one can deliver a message better."

While Clinton may give Democrats a boost, analysts say they do not expect him to end voter ire about the ailing economy and immunize his party against anticipated Election Day loses.


And they note that, particularly in Republican-dominated areas, Clinton could do Democrats more harm than good.

"Bill Clinton can't be used everywhere. In some places, he's still toxic," said Paul Light, a political scientist at New York University.

Clinton earned the moniker "Comeback Kid" in his 1992 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. A sex scandal nearly knocked him out, but he rallied to capture the White House.

He presided over relative peace and prosperity, yet his presidency was hit by another sex scandal that threatened to drive him from office. He survived and ended his second term in 2001 with a public approval rating of more than 60 percent.

But the sex scandals, the investigation of the Clintons' investment in a failed real estate deal and the first lady's ill-fated foray into healthcare reform helped make Clinton some inveterate enemies among conservative Republicans.

Democrats currently control the U.S. Senate and the House. The entire House and 36 Senate seats are up for grabs in the November elections. With opinion polls showing Congress with an approval rating of only about 25 percent, Republicans are expected to gain seats, but it is unclear if they will take control of either chamber.

Clinton's own stock dipped during the campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination that saw Barack Obama defeat Hillary Clinton.

Relations between the former and current president had become strained. But they improved after the former first lady became Obama's secretary of state.

Last year, Bill Clinton went to Capitol Hill to help win passage of Obama's plan to revamp the U.S. healthcare system.


"We've made real progress already -- from bringing our economy back from the brink to delivering dramatic health insurance reform," Clinton wrote in a recent letter to raise funds for House Democrats.

Clinton, 63, has remained on the world stage, largely with humanitarian efforts, including visits to Haiti early this year to help victims of the poor country's devastating earthquake.

He has been slowed, but not stopped, since 2004 by a pair of heart surgeries, the most recent in February to open a blocked artery.

While Democrats embrace Clinton, Republicans avoid former Republican President George W. Bush. He left office in January 2009 with an approval rating about half that of Clinton's.

Senator John Cornyn, the Senate Republican campaign committee chairman, said Democrats' election-year problems are bigger than Clinton.

"What's going to be an albatross around the neck of Democrats in November is the unpopular policies, spending and debt that people are responding to in dramatic fashion," Cornyn said.

But Cornyn conceded Clinton can be a good fund-raiser. "The amount of money that a former president can help raise is something that I'm worried about," he said.