Senate candidate Clinton eager to accept president's help
NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Clinton was back on the campaign trail this weekend. The president headlined four fund-raisers Sunday -- from upstate New York to Long Island and Manhattan -- raising more than $500,000 for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for U.S. Senate against Republican rival Rick Lazio.
The president has relished his political assignment "as the spouse and cheerleader-in-chief," leading New York's Democratic faithful in a cheer for the other Clinton running for office. Likewise, Hillary Clinton has welcomed his presence.
"He is helping me," Hillary Clinton said of her husband's efforts. "By talking about the progress and the prosperity of the last eight years, and what I would do in the Senate to build on that, and how important it is to elect Al Gore and Joe Lieberman."
Vice President Al Gore, however, has taken a different tack with regard to presidential help, making it clear during his campaign that he would rather win or lose the presidency "as my own man." The solo act has frustrated a number of Democrats.
"There are a lot of Democrats who are scratching their heads saying, 'Listen, we're thinking about the base ... let out the big dog. Let's put Bill Clinton out there,'" said Tamala Edwards, a political correspondent with Time Magazine.
The president kept a relatively low profile in his wife's Senate race until recently. Aides said the first lady had to first convince New York voters she was a candidate in her own right.
"I think that she was very wise in not having him there with her at the very beginning because she needed to establish that she was her own person, that she was running as her own candidate and this was about her as a senator and not about Bill Clinton," said New York pollster Mickey Blum.
But campaign aides say Bill Clinton was a consultant from the beginning of the Senate campaign, offering advice on everything from strategy to the routine -- such as how to speak in sound bites.
Now, President Clinton has a more public role: energizing Democratic voters to turn out on Election Day.
"This is the first time in 26 years they're having an election and I am not on the ballot. But I care more about this election than any one I have ever been involved in," he said recently.
Hillary Clinton is also counting on support from Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, with whom she campaigned last week. Polls show the Democratic national ticket way ahead in the Empire State. By contrast, her Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, has avoided GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush.
Lazio is hoping that Gore supporters will either cross over to him or not vote at all in the Senate race, a contest in which he faces not just one Clinton, but two.