The Big Dog on the stump

THE BIG DOG ON THE STUMP…. Bill Clinton recently told reporters that after the completion of the Clinton Global Initiative, held in New York last week, he planned to hit the campaign trail on Barack Obama’s behalf. Today, he did just that, speaking at a rally in Orlando.

In this clip, the former president has a timely message on the eve of the vice presidential debate: “Senator Obama has spoken a lot about how we ought to relate to the world, and yes, he’ll get out and travel some in the first year, we should want him to do it. But he is going to have to be really focused on fixing this economy. That means that role of the Vice President in repairing quickly our relations with the rest of the world will be relatively more important in the first two years of the next presidency. And I am just telling you, you can talk to me or anybody else at any time in Washington, and they will tell you there is nobody, nobody in the entire United States senate that understands the political, the economic, and the security challenges and opportunities of the world better than Joe Biden does. He is a superb choice.”

Later, in the same speech, Clinton tied the messages together: “The Obama/Biden ticket, and particularly Senator Obama, have a better philosophy, better answers, better understanding, better advisers, a better vice presidential candidate, and a better plan for Florida…. This is not close, folks. It is not a close question.”

Last week, Clinton extended quite a bit of praise to John McCain, but that was in the context of a non-partisan event. Today he wore the hat of Democratic Party leader, and given the speech and response, the Obama campaign is no doubt hoping it’s a hat he’ll wear quite a bit over the next month.

On a related note, watching the Big Dog today, it was a reminder of just how tremendous an asset he is for Obama. Who can McCain dispatch to key areas like this? Bush? Of course not. Cheney? Please. There is no one in the Republican Party with this kind of pull.

Having a popular former president available for rallies like the one we saw today in Orlando is invaluable — given the interest, attention, and excitement, it’s practically like having another member of the ticket on the campaign trail.

As I argued in August, Al Gore, for a variety of reasons, decided not to utilize Bill Clinton extensively eight years ago, and John Kerry used him sparingly in 2004, in part because of the former president’s health trouble at the time. This year, if the Obama campaign is smart — and I have every reason to believe it is — they’ll put Clinton out on the trail as much as possible.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.