How Do the Clintons Factor Into the 2004 Election?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 5, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Maybe we're reading too much into this, but Bill Clinton (search) says publicly that the Democratic presidential candidates are wrong to criticize President Bush about Iraq. Hillary Clinton (search) says she is not running in 2004, but you never know. And there is always 2008.

Earlier, I spoke with Washington Post political writer Tom Edsall (search) and asked him the big question — is there a Clinton factor in the 2004 election?


TOM EDSALL, WASHINGTON POST: Well, if [Hillary Clinton] wanted to get in, she would be the frontrunner from the word "go." Her real influence, though, is most likely to be at the House and Senate level, where she is going to be a fundraiser and will do a lot of work for members, particularly in the Senate. She is also building up a Democratic think tank, kind of a counterpart to the Heritage Institution. So, I think more down-ticket than the presidential level.

GIBSON: What about the role of both Clintons, Bill and Hillary. You know, Bill appears on Larry King, defending President Bush. Can it be said that Bill Clinton, and I suppose Hillary Clinton, would like to see Bush re-elected?

EDSALL: You could argue that. I mean, I think there are a lot of signs that she is interested in 2008 and Bill Clinton wants more and more to appear to be a statesman. He really needs to, if she is going to run, and he is going to be at her side so that if Bush were to win, that clearly opens things up for her in 2008. And it gives more time for the two of them to deal with the problems that they've had from the presidency and back from then.

GIBSON: Right. But at the same time, if Bill Clinton were to take a slightly opposite tact and criticize President Bush over the war, as other Democrats are, could he help those other Democrats who are not Hillary?

EDSALL: I think that the problem is that for Bill Clinton to do anything negatively controversial at this point is a very difficult step for him to take. He left the White House with the whole issue of the pardons, Monica Lewinsky (search). I think at this stage, he sees his goal as trying to restore his status and not appearing as a controversial and volatile kind of figure.

GIBSON: So, the nine Democrats that are presently in the field have to fight this thing out, not only without the Clintons' help, but in a way with the Clintons working against them?

EDSALL: Well, in fairness, though, Clinton supported Bush on the war, so did Lieberman, so did Kerry. Edwards also voted for it. There's not that much of a split between some of the Democratic candidates and Clinton.

GIBSON: Well, except that what Bill Clinton did on that interview was to say that the president essentially shouldn't be criticized about WMD, that when he left office, the WMD problem was raging and that the president made a prudent decision. That seems to be a little more in support of Bush than any of the other Democrats have been.

EDSALL: It is more and it does, in that sense, take away… from the Democratic issue of looking for weakness in the Bush administration, contending basically that Bush exaggerated or lied. And Clinton is standing behind Bush on that. You're right in that sense that he is gutting the Democrats.

GIBSON: I can't let you go without asking about Al Gore (search). The guy says, “I'm not going to run.” But it appears there may be some signs of life there. What do you make of it?

EDSALL: I don't know what to make of it. I think the guy must have a lot of regrets from 2000, feeling that he had half a million more votes than Bush. It's a painful thing for him. We'll see. He has this appearance coming up at NYU later this week, what kind of noises he makes there. It's hard to get all the way out and then now get back in. It's possible, but I wouldn't bet on it.

GIBSON: All right. Tom Edsall, Washington Post, Tom, thank you very much for your time.

EDSALL: Thank you.


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