WASHINGTON Former President Clinton said through a spokesman Tuesday that he is committed to helping Barack Obama become president, his first comments in support of his wife's former rival since their primary ended three weeks ago.
Relations between the last Democratic president and the candidate who wants to be the next one are frosty they still haven't spoken in the aftermath of the heated campaign. But Bill Clinton extended an offer to help in a one-sentence statement from spokesman Matt McKenna.
"President Clinton is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do to ensure Senator Obama is the next president of the United States," McKenna said.
It's not clear what Obama might ask him to do. The campaign wasn't specific when asked.
"A unified Democratic Party is going to be a powerful force for change this year and we're confident President Clinton will play a big role in that," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
Bill Clinton will not be attending the unity rally between the two former rivals Friday in New Hampshire. McKenna said the former president is in Europe this week to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday, give speeches and work for the William J. Clinton Foundation.
Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke Sunday and talked about Obama connecting with the former president sometime in the future, Burton said.
Hillary Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said, "Senator Clinton is very pleased with how quickly the party is coming together after the primaries, and she will continue to do everything she can to unite Democrats behind Senator Obama as our nominee."
Bill Clinton was an outspoken critic of Obama during the primary race. He said Obama's opposition to the Iraq war was a "fairy tale" and raised questions about whether the first-term Illinois senator had the experience to lead the country. During one debate Obama snapped at Hillary Clinton, "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."
President Clinton has been the most valuable personality in the Democratic Party, but his angry outbursts while campaigning for his wife tarnished his image. Obama prizes a tightly controlled image and lack of drama in his campaign, which are not President Clinton's hallmarks.
Half of respondents to an AP-Yahoo News poll conducted in mid-June viewed Bill Clinton favorably. But he took a hit among those who said they had a "very favorable" opinion of Clinton, dropping from 25 percent in December before the primary voting began to 16 percent in June. Still, the former president is one of the most popular figures in public life and he drew large, enthusiastic crowds when campaigning for his wife.
Democratic consultant Mark Kornblau said the benefits of having Bill Clinton's help outweigh the negatives for Obama. He said Clinton could travel to economically struggling states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan and talk about the prosperity under his presidency and promote Obama's vision.
"He can connect in parts of the country where Senator Obama may need some help, like the Rust Belt, and it will help in further unifying the primary after a fractious primary," said Kornblau, who was a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. "The downside, as we saw in the primary, is that it's a little roll of the dice. But I think it's worth the risk."
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