Bill is Hillary's 'secret' campaign weapon

Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, greeting the crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, in October. Said Assistant Professor of Politics Hans Hassell from Cornell College: "Having Bill Clinton involve
Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, greeting the crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, in October. Said Assistant Professor of Politics Hans Hassell from Cornell College: "Having Bill Clinton involved in the campaign reminds voters of the successes of the Clinton presidency and is especially effective to rally Democrats."PHOTO: REUTERS

The ex-president has remained low-key but will campaign more publicly soon

Once the new year rolls around, Mrs Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign will unleash its new secret, or not so secret, weapon - Mr Bill Clinton.

The former president has remained low-key ever since Mrs Clinton's official announcement in April that she will be running for president in the November 2016 election, with limited public appearances with his wife, mainly chipping in to the campaign on the fund-raising front.

In October, he kicked off a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa state, where he told the crowd: "I'm tired of the stranglehold that women have had on the job of presidential spouse. I want you to help me deal with that."

He made another appearance after the last Democratic debate on Dec 19 at a debate watch party in Manchester, New Hampshire, a key early primary state.

There, Mrs Clinton told the crowd: "Starting in January, I will have my not so secret weapon here," referring to Mr Clinton, who stood on stage with her.

"We are going to cover as much ground in New Hampshire as we possibly can, see as many people, thank everybody who is going to turn out and vote for me and try to get some more to join me," she said.

Having a family member on the campaign trail, experts say, can be a great asset.

Real-estate mogul Donald Trump's daughter, Ms Ivanka Trump, introduced him when he announced his bid for the presidency. Texas senator Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, has taken leave from her job with Goldman Sachs to campaign for her husband, while Mrs Candy Carson sang the national anthem at a campaign event in Iowa for her husband, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Said Assistant Professor of Politics Hans Hassell from Cornell College: "Voters project their understanding of how candidates navigate the family dynamics as a means to understanding what sort of individual the candidate will be in office... It's not a perfect cue, but it's what voters use."

Mr Clinton, of course, is a family member like no other, having been the 42nd President himself. He is skilled in retail politics and immensely popular among voters.

A Bloomberg Politics poll done in November showed that 60 per cent of those surveyed had a favourable opinion of Mr Clinton, while only 34 per cent said they felt unfavourably towards him.

That makes him more popular than both Mrs Clinton - 42 per cent favourable, 53 per cent unfavourable - and President Barack Obama - 48 per cent favourable, 49 per cent unfavourable.

But experts said the Clinton campaign has kept Mr Clinton at bay for this long because of the lessons learnt from the 2008 campaign.

Assistant Professor Kelly Winfrey from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University said Mr Clinton did "draw attention away from Hillary" in that campaign and it seemed like a strategic decision by the current one to keep the focus on her this time.

"I think Hillary Clinton's campaign this time around has learnt she needs to be her own candidate, independent of Bill. This also prevents voters and the media from tying her to Bill's positions, policies and scandals," said Prof Winfrey, whose research focuses on political campaign communication and gender.

Prof Hassell adds that the campaign needs to "create enough separation so that Hillary is not just seen as a means for Bill to get a third term, much like a vice-president running for president after the president has served two terms".

If that separation can be achieved, then Mr Clinton can bolster his wife's bid for the presidency.

Said Prof Hassell: "Having Bill Clinton involved in the campaign reminds voters of the successes of the Clinton presidency and is especially effective to rally Democrats."

As for Mr Clinton's role as the "First Gentleman", if Mrs Clinton were to become the first female president of the United States, many feel he would slip into it with ease.

Prof Winfrey said: "He is already active with his own charitable work, and most first ladies have a non-controversial cause they work on while serving as First Lady. I think Bill Clinton could fulfil that role well."

Mrs Clinton also said instead of having him pick out china for the White House, she would more likely tap on his expertise on policy issues.

In an interview on late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, she said: "I more imagine asking him what's the best way to create jobs really quickly and get wages up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Bill is Hillary's 'secret' campaign weapon'. Print Edition | Subscribe