Bill Clinton and US President Barack Obama at fundraiser 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK - US President Barack Obama enlisted Bill Clinton to campaign alongside him in New York on Monday, tapping the popular ex-president's star power to rake in re-election funds from wealthy Wall Street investors and Broadway show-business elite.
The two men teamed up for the first time since Clinton put Obama's campaign on the defensive last week when he became the most prominent Democrat to disavow their attacks on Republican challenger Mitt Romney's record as a private equity executive.
But there was no sign of discord as Obama and Clinton put up a show of unity in New York, kicking off a night of fundraising that included a dinner with big-money donors, a gala at the ritzy Waldorf Astoria hotel and a star-studded "Barack on Broadway" concert. The events raised more than $3.5 million.
Clinton, white-haired and slimmed down from his White House years, told a reception hosted by billionaire hedge fund manager Marc Lasry that Obama must "win this election and win it unambiguously."
"The alternative would be, in my opinion, calamitous for our country and the world," Clinton said as the two presidents stood shoulder to shoulder in a living room of a luxury home in a swank Upper East Side neighborhood.
Obama and Clinton have had a sometimes strained relationship since the former Illinois senator beat the former president's wife Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state, in a bitter race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
But Clinton remains a figure deeply admired by most Democrats, and Obama's aides believe his support could be pivotal for pulling in campaign money and selling independent voters on the president's economic plans.
Clinton oversaw one of the most prosperous economic times in recent US history and was the last president to balance the federal budget, something Democrats are keen to remind Americans of before the Nov. 6 election.
At Lasry's luxurious Manhattan home, where diners paid $40,000 a plate, Clinton accused Romney of wanting to pursue "wrong-headed" economic policies and linked the Republican's focus on budget austerity to crisis-hit Europe.
Obama reminded the well-heeled audience that Clinton had presided over "one of the greatest booms that we've seen ... Everybody did well."
He avoided some of the anti-business rhetoric that his campaign has used recently, casting himself as a friend of free enterprise, but asserted that Republicans had adopted a policy of market "absolutism."
Obama, neck-and-neck with Romney in the polls, could use all the help he can muster after dismal jobs numbers last Friday underscored the weakness of the economy and the challenge he faces as he tries to convince voters to give him a second term. The US jobless rate ticked up to 8.2 percent in May.
Clinton's fundraising prowess is also seen as more important than ever as Obama's advisers grow increasingly concerned that his campaign-money advantage as sitting president could be undercut by outside conservative groups spending big to attack his record.
Romney was scheduled at a private fundraiser in Portland, Oregon, before heading to raise money in Seattle, Washington. Both states are widely seen as sure wins for Obama in the November election.