When a Republican state legislator in Arkansas pushed last year to rename the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Clarke Tucker stood up for the former president.
“The argument was that the people of Arkansas don’t support the Clintons,” said Mr. Tucker, a Democratic member of the state House of Representatives. “My thought at the time was, well, the people of Arkansas voted for Clinton eight times.”
But now, as the Democratic nominee in the tightest congressional race in this state, Mr. Tucker is happy for the former president and his wife to remain a plane ride away. Mr. Clinton, who was governor and attorney general of Arkansas, was once a near-ubiquitous presence helping Democrats in tough races back home, but the former president hasn’t been asked to appear on the trail for Mr. Tucker.
There are no plans for him to do so. Or, for that matter, appear publicly with any Democrat running in the midterm elections.
“Every election is about the future,” Mr. Tucker said, as he drove to a campaign fund-raiser in Little Rock.
As Democrats search for their identity in the Trump era, one aspect has become strikingly clear: Mr. Clinton is not part of it. Just days before the midterm elections, Mr. Clinton finds himself in a kind of political purgatory, unable to overcome past personal and policy choices now considered anathema within the rising liberal wing of his party.
The former president, once such a popular political draw that he was nicknamed his party’s “explainer-in-chief,” has only appeared at a handful of private fund-raisers to benefit midterm candidates, according to people close to him.
He added one more last week, headlining a Wednesday evening fund-raiser in New York City last week to benefit the campaign of Mike Espy, Mr. Clinton’s former agriculture secretary who is running for Senate in Mississippi. Mr. Espy’s campaign declined to comment on the event.
The absence of Mr. Clinton is a notable shift both for a man who’s boosted Democratic candidates in every election for the past half century and for a party long defined by the former first couple. Hillary Clinton has slowly become a more visible presence in the 2018 election, even seeming to crack open the door to another presidential bid in an interview last week, but she is also a frequent Republican target and a burden to Democrats in some parts of the country.
In an election shaped by the #MeToo movement, where female candidates and voters are likely to drive any Democratic gains, Mr. Clinton finds his legacy tarnished by what some in the party see as his inability to reckon with his sexual indiscretions as president with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, as well as with past allegations of sexual assault. (Mr. Clinton has denied those allegations.) Younger and more liberal voters find little appeal in Mr. Clinton’s reputation for ideological centrism on issues like financial regulation and crime.
“I’m not sure that with all the issues he has, he could really be that helpful to the candidates,” said Tamika D. Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March, who’s now promoting female candidates across the country. “It would do the Democratic Party well to have Bill Clinton focus on his humanitarian efforts.”
SOURCE: Lisa Lerer
The New York Times