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Analysts: Clinton Book Could Impact 2004 Election - 2004-06-24

Former President Bill Clinton's just-published memoir is breaking sales records for a non-fiction book, with more than 400,000 copies sold during its first day at bookstores. Now, political experts are wondering what impact, if any, Mr. Clinton's autobiography will have on this year's presidential election.

This week's release of the Clinton book is a reminder that the 42nd president remains one of the most polarizing figures in American politics.

Clinton supporters and detractors inundated call-in programs like this one, on the C-SPAN public affairs television network.

"Thank you, Republicans. You all just keep hating and hating and hating and yes, I would buy the [Clinton] book," one Clinton supporter said.

"I will always remember slick Willie Clinton as a sex pervert, an impeached president, a convicted liar," another caller countered.

Much of the attention on the book so far has focused on how Mr. Clinton dealt with the sex and lies scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Bill Clinton spoke to that issue in his interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes.

"I will always regret the personal mistake I made. But I will always be proud that when they [Republicans] moved on impeachment, I did not quit, I never thought of resigning and I stood up to it and beat it back," Mr. Clinton said. "To me, the whole battle was a badge of honor. I do not see it as a great stain because it was illegitimate."

Political experts say the focus on Mr. Clinton could be a double-edged sword for the Democrats and their expected presidential nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

While Democrats concentrate on the economic accomplishments during the Clinton years, Republicans are quick to remind voters of the sex and lies scandal that led to Bill Clinton becoming only the second U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Mr. Clinton was acquitted in a Senate trial and completed his term in office.

Mr. Clinton says he wants to campaign on behalf of Senator Kerry this year and Mr. Kerry seems eager to accept it.

"I welcome the president's book and I welcome the president's book tour," he said. "I think that both are going to remind Americans about some very, very good years in terms of the economy of our country and the policy directions we took."

Some Democrats believe former Vice President Al Gore made a mistake four years ago by limiting Mr. Clinton's involvement in his campaign.

Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta is urging Senator Kerry not to make the same mistake.

"I think there is some nostalgia for how this economy was during the Clinton years and how we were in terms of our relationship with the rest of the world," Mr. Panetta said. "Those were all pluses and I do not think there is anybody is more effective on the campaign stump than President Clinton."

Republicans acknowledge that Bill Clinton can be a formidable force on the campaign trail. But some of them say a high profile presence for the former president in the Kerry campaign would have the effect of energizing conservative voters to turn out in force to support President Bush in November.

Conservative activist Bay Buchanan spoke on NBC television.

"There is no question that the more Bill Clinton is on television talking about Monica Lewinsky and all those days, those scandalous days, it is going to help George Bush get out the conservative vote," she said.

But the election is still more than four months away and most analysts believe the Clinton factor will have little impact on an election that will likely turn on the situation in Iraq and the domestic economy.