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Bill Clinton Backs Loyalists

Former President’s Endorsement Is Often a Reward for Past Support

CQ Roll Call File Photo
In the Maryland Democratic primary for the 6th district seat, a robocall from President Bill Clinton was seen as the turning point on businessman John Delaney’s path to victory.

President Bill Clinton’s recent endorsements in a handful of House primaries have conjured up memories of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, as he has sought to reward his wife’s supporters and candidates with loyalties to the couple.

“There’s nobody in this business that keeps score like the Clintons,” a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic fundraiser noted.

Two of the four highest-profile races Clinton has chosen to get involved in are Member-vs.-Member fights. He wrote a letter of support for Rep. Brad Sherman in his race against fellow California Democratic Rep. Howard Berman. And just last week he backed Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Critz in his Democratic primary against Rep. Jason Altmire.

In both races, the divisions caused by the 2008 superdelegate fight are obvious. Sherman was an early supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton, while Berman endorsed Barack Obama that May. At that point in the campaign, there was a drive among Democrats to get Clinton to drop out.

As for Critz, he was working at the time for the late Rep. John Murtha, one of Clinton’s most ardent supporters. Altmire wavered but never endorsed. According to knowledgeable sources, his hemming and hawing irked the Clintons.

Campaigns past and present that responded to questions from Roll Call said they sought out Clinton’s assistance, rather than the other way around.

“I told him that I was going to face this race against Howard Berman, that we were being put in the same district, the lines weren’t absolutely final but everybody knew,” Sherman said in an interview. “And he said he’d like to do something to help. He wouldn’t do everything I wanted to help, but that he did something and he did.”

When asked whether he got the sense Clinton was looking for candidates to endorse, as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did in 2010, Sherman said that was not the case.

“It’s not like he’s in Haiti dealing with the issues of tuberculosis, surfing the Web for Member-on-Member Congressional candidacies. Naw. I brought this to him.”

With five more Democratic Member-vs.-Member primaries left after the conclusion of the Pennsylvania fight next week, many are wondering which contests Clinton might wade into next.

The most obvious race is the New Jersey primary between Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman, two well-liked Democrats who were on opposite sides of the 2008 presidential fight. Pascrell backed Hillary Rodham Clinton while Rothman was an early and proud Obama supporter.

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