With just over two months to go before Election Day and after months of hard feelings, a handful of phone calls, and fitful, uncomfortable contact between respective staffs, Barack Obama paid a visit to Bill Clinton’s Harlem office today, where the former president said he would hit the trail for the Democratic nominee.
"Would it would been more to Obama’s advantage to have engaged more proactively earlier with President Clinton? Sure," said former Clinton finance chair and Obama fund-raiser Hassan Nemazee. "But the fact that they are getting engaged now, and that Hillary is doing everything asked of her and campaigning wherever asked, is of tremendous value to the Obama campaign."
It hasn’t come easy, though, as evidenced by the amount of time it’s taken to stage a joint public appearance. And it’s still not clear how enthusiastically Clinton, arguably the greatest campaigner of his generation, will advocate for Obama.
People close to the former president have fumed about what they perceive to be Obama’s arrogance. They point out that he has been in the city about a dozen times for campaign events and fund-raisers, but has never dropped in to pick the brain of the last Democratic presidential candidate to win a general election. Obama has only called a handful of times, they say.
The way one source close to Clinton sees it, the former president had all the right in the world to shun Obama as a result of the charges of racism the Clinton team felt the Obama campaign unfairly fomented during the primary. Despite all that though, they say, Clinton was always willing to move on. Obama, the source said, apparently wasn’t.
The Obama campaign said they were sticking with the joint statement released today. Although one suspects that, under different circumstances, they’d have at least as much to say about the former president’s conduct, too.
According to one source with knowledge of the day’s discussion, the meeting helped Clinton and Obama work out at least some of those hard feelings.
Which prompts the question, why only now?
The other mystery is why Hillary Clinton has taken such a low-profile role on the campaign trail for Obama. She and her spokespeople say she is doing exactly what the Obama campaign asks of her, and they argue that the relations between the two campaigns are as smooth as can be.
"I have heard it directly," said Nemazee. "People from the Obama campaign say the last thing we want to do is be attacking and elevating Governor [Sarah] Palin. This is not about her. They say that to both Obama and Clinton people."
But one person close to the Clintons said senior Obama staffers asked senior aides to Senator Clinton to take a harder line against Palin. The answer was no.