Democratic Candidates Distancing Themselves From Bill and Hillary Clinton for 2018 Elections

Hillary Clinton (L) and Bill Clinton / Getty
May 21, 2018

Democratic candidates running for office in 2018 are attempting to escape the long shadow that Bill and Hillary Clinton have cast over the Democratic Party for decades.

Candidates up and down the ballot are rebuffing offers of help and support from the former first couple, fearing they will be a liability rather than an asset, the New York Times reported Monday.

The development is especially evident in red states like Arkansas, which the Clintons called home from 1973-1992. The state, which launched Bill Clinton's political career and voted for him twice at the presidential level in 1992 and 1996, has moved increasingly toward the Republican column. In 2016, Hillary Clinton—who served as first lady of Arkansas from 1979-1981 and again from 1983-1992—lost the state to Trump by almost 27 points.

Paul Spencer, a progressive Democrat running in Arkansas' second congressional district, said the couple poses a burden to candidates looking to make inroads because they represent an antiquated view of the Democratic Party.

"I see the Clintons as a liability," Spencer said. "They simply represent the old mind-set of a Democratic Party that is going to continue to lose elections."

None of the four candidates running in the district has reached out to the Clintons for support, their campaigns told the Times.

Spencer is not alone in vocalizing this sentiment. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), who is facing a tough challenge in her reelection bid this year, previously said it would not be "soon enough" before Hillary Clinton rode "off into the sunset."

The Democratic Party's souring on the Clinton brand is backed in part by polling data showing the couple's favorability is at a new low with the American public. Only 36 percent of Americans viewed Hillary Clinton favorably in December 2017, according to a Gallup survey.

Bill Clinton's approval rating was not in much better shape, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which emerged last year after several high-profile instances of sexual abuse and harassment by powerful men in media, politics, and entertainment came to light. Gallup found the former president's approval rating—45 percent in December 2017—was at its lowest since leaving office in 2001.

"Mrs. Clinton's husband appears far less welcome on the trail, with his unpopularity among Republicans compounded by new skepticism on the left about his treatment of women and allegations of sexual assault," the Times reported. "Mr. Clinton is said to remain passionately angry about the 2016 election—more so than his wife—raising concerns that he could go wildly off message in campaign settings, several people who have spoken with Mr. Clinton said."

In February, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.) told Politico that she did not expect the former president to take an active role in campaigning for Democrats in 2018 because his presence would only serve to remind voters that the party had not always taken the high road on sexual misconduct.

"I think it's pretty tough," she said. "[His presence] just brings up a lot of issues that will be very tough for Democrats. And I think we all have to be clear about what the #MeToo movement was."