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Obama, Bill Clinton join forces as Romney-Obama race heats up

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Mon April 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Four years ago, Bill Clinton was the biggest and most vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton
  • Now, the former president will be a high-profile surrogate for President Obama
  • Bill Clinton recently appeared in a buzzworthy Obama campaign web video
  • Clinton can help Obama by reminding voters of better economic times

Washington (CNN) -- If case you had any doubts, don't -- Bill Clinton's fully on board President Barack Obama's re-election effort.

"Barack Obama deserves to be re-elected president of the United States," the former president said Sunday night, as he joined the current officeholder at a fundraiser for the Obama re-election campaign.

It was a very different story four years ago, when Clinton was the biggest and most vocal supporter of his wife, Hillary Clinton, in her historic battle against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton was a critic of then-Sen. Obama, arguing that the freshman senator wasn't ready to handle the duties of the Oval Office. Among Clinton's most controversial comments came when he challenged Obama's claim to be more against the Iraq War than Hillary Clinton.

"Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," the former president said at the time.

But that was then. After Hillary Clinton ended her bid for the nomination, she and her husband took to the campaign trail to help Obama win the White House. The rest is history: Sen. Obama became President Obama and Sen. Clinton became Secretary of State Clinton.

Now, as Obama runs for a second term in the White House, Bill Clinton will once again serve as one of the current president's most high-profile surrogates.

"I think he is beating the historical standard for coming out of a financial collapse and a mortgage collapse. I think the last thing you want to do is to turn around and embrace the policies that got us into trouble in the first place," Clinton said at the Sunday fundraiser at the Virginia home of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a longtime member of the Clinton inner circle. "We need to keep going forward by re-electing Barack Obama president of the United States."

Later, at the same event, Obama praised his predecessor and joked that "you guys get two presidents for one out of this event, which is a pretty good deal."

But it's not just fundraisers -- the former president had the starring role in an Obama campaign video that generated a lot of buzz after it went up online Friday.

"The president is the decider in chief. Nobody can make that decision for you," Clinton says in the Web video, discussing Obama's decision-making process to give the go-ahead to carry out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the al Qaeda leader's death.

"Look, he knew what would happen. Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn't been bin Laden. Suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him, but he reasoned, 'I cannot in good conscience do nothing.' He took the harder and the more honorable path and the one that produced in my opinion the best result," Clinton adds in the video.

The video also questions whether Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, would have given the same order.

An Obama re-election official told CNN, "What's clear is that the Democratic Party is unified for the 2012 campaign," and added that "President Clinton will help raise money for the campaign at three fundraisers and we anticipate more activity on the trail as the election approaches."

The former president can help the current White House occupant in a number of ways: Clinton's an extremely talented political strategist and surrogate who can campaign for the president in places such as the Rust Belt and parts of rural America where Obama may not be so popular. With the economy remaining the top issue on the minds of Americans, someone like Clinton touting Obama could remind them of better economic times.

"Former President Clinton represents economic strength in the eyes of most Americans," Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala said.

"There is no one with more economic credibility than President Clinton -- so when he says President Obama will revive the economy and save the middle class, folks listen. I expect to see Clinton making the case all over the country in 2012," added Begala, who was a top adviser in the Clinton White House and who now is a senior adviser to Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC.

Beyond his campaigning and fundraising, Clinton has also come to Obama's aid in his elder statesmen missions for the Obama administration in Haiti and North Korea. And while offering constructive criticism of some of Obama's actions in the first two years of his presidency in his 2011 book "Back to Work," Clinton also makes the case for the Obama White House and appears to mark a warmer relationship between the two men.

Expect the requests for Bill Clinton to keep coming. A source close to the former president points out that since Hillary Clinton's role as secretary of state will continue to keep her off the campaign trail this cycle, the former president will be busier than ever.

Of course, there appears to be something in this equation for Clinton too. By lending Obama a helping hand, Clinton continues to erase any lingering bad memories from the Clinton-Obama clash during the 2008 primaries. And just in case his wife decides to make another bid for the White House in 2016 (never say never), helping Team Obama now could pay dividends in four years.

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