BOSTON – Republicans readily acknowledge Bill Clinton was hard to beat — one of the reasons they relish the former president's contrast with John Kerry (search).
"It's going to be difficult for Kerry to wrest control of these folks from the thrall of Bill Clinton," said veteran GOP strategist Rich Galen (search) after watching Clinton's stirring speech to the Democratic convention Monday night from the GOP war room in Boston.
Top Republicans express mixed feelings about Clinton, the 42nd president who outmaneuvered them for eight years in the 1990s.
They say they respect his political skills, dislike his policies and are relieved he can't run for president again.
"He's a tremendous politician, extremely charismatic, he makes such incredible connections with Democratic voters," said Republican National Committee (search) spokesman Jim Dyke. "I think he set a pretty high bar tonight for Senator Kerry to make a similar connection."
Earlier in the day, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) said he thinks a high profile for Clinton in the 2004 campaign is a good thing for Republicans.
"It's helpful really," Gillespie said.
Republicans also like to compare Clinton policies they say were more moderate and centrist than Kerry's votes in the Senate.
Galen said the former president's speech Monday night was "Clinton being Clinton for an audience that has loved Bill Clinton and wants to continue to love him. That presents a problem for John Kerry."
"Bill Clinton has clearly sent the message that this is still my party, you are still my people," Galen said. "The brighter he shines, the longer the shadow he casts. It's never been clear to me that one person can transfer their popularity to another."