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Why it pays to be friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton

Just as favors are remembered, transgressions are as well.
Image: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton greets supporters at a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters and gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.

It pays to be friends with Bill and Hillary.

The Clintons are, without rival, the hottest surrogates in the Democratic Party -- but not every candidate can get them. The former first couple can swoop into town and raise millions of dollars or assemble thousands of fired-up Democrats. Their endorsement is one of the few that actually sways voters, according to polls. "There is not one single competitive district in the country where both don't do well,” the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Steve Israel, told the AP.

But there’s a problem: There are only two Clintons, and only so much time before Election Day. With control of the Senate in the balance, and a chance to pick up key states in gubernatorial races, that doesn’t leave much time to campaign for the 200 House Democratic candidates on the ballot this year, let alone races further down the ballot.

And yet, on Monday, Hillary Clinton headed to Somers, New York, to rally for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is facing a tough reelection battle against the Republican he beat in 2012 to take the seat, former Rep. Nan Hayworth. Maloney represents the congressional district adjacent to Clinton’s, and is one of only eight openly gay members of Congress, but he has another advantage in attracting the Clintons that other candidates don’t.

"I was part of what they called Hillaryland,” he said Monday while introducing Clinton. Indeed, the Clintons and Maloney go way way back. He started his political career as a junior staffer for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, and eventually worked his way up to senior positions in the White House. He invited them to his wedding this summer.

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When Maloney ran for Congress in 2012, Bill came to give him a boost. When Maloney faced a Democratic primary earlier this year, Bill came back to help. And now, as he faces a tough general election battle, Hillary Clinton came to rally the troops.

It’s typical treatment from the Clintons, whose loyalty and personal attention to friends and former staffers is legendary. Favors are remembered, friendships are rewarded -- and grudges are held.

Also on Monday, the former president endorsed a candidate for attorney general -- of a city. Karl Racine, who is running for attorney general in the District of Columbia, worked as a lawyer in Clinton’s White House. “His work as my Associate White House Counsel prepared him well for this office,” Clinton said in a statement.

It’s hardly the first time the former president has reached way down the ballot to bolster for a candidate.

Earlier this year, Clinton campaigned for a candidate in a Democratic primary for state treasurer in Rhode Island. The candidate, Seth Magaziner, is the son of longtime Clinton advisor Ira Magaziner (he won the primary and is expected to win the general on Tuesday).

Meanwhile, the first politician Hillary Clinton campaigned for in 2014 was Pennsylvania congressional candidate Marjorie Margolies, Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law. The only Democrats she boosted the year before were Bill de Blasio, her former Senate campaign manager, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of her 2008 presidential campaign. Both are longtime Clinton aides and allies.

In 2009, Bill Clinton recorded a robo-call for a 23-year-old Virginia House of Delegates candidate named Adam Parkhomenko. Parkhomenko lost, but went on to found Ready for Hillary, the quasi-official Clinton super PAC gearing up for a 2016 bid.

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He’ll do mayoral races, too. In 2011, he stumped for his former aide Rahm Emanuel,who won his bid to be Chicago’s chief executive. The former president also turned out for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Nutter was in no danger of losing a second term, but he did give Hillary Clinton a key endorsement in 2008.

This year, both Clintons have kept busy campaign schedules, but have been particularly invested in Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, the daughter of longtime Clinton friend and ally, Jerry Lundergan.  

And almost all of the Democrats running for major office in Arkansas have some direct connection to the former governor. Sen. Mark Pryor is the son of Clinton’s political mentor, former senator David Pryor. James Lee Witt, Clinton’s old friend and FEMA director, is running for Congress.

But just as favors are remembered, transgressions are as well.

During the last election cycle, Bill Clinton made what some dubbed a “loyalty tour,” campaigning for House candidates who endorsed his wife in 2008  -- and punishing those who snubbed her by backing Barack Obama.

In one memorable moment, Bill Clinton went practically to the hometown of a former Democratic congressman who rebuffed Hillary in order to campaign for a rival in the Democratic primary for attorney general of Pennsylvania.

According to the book “HRC,” by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, the Clintons kept a “hit list” of fellow partisans who had wronged them. “I am never going to forget the people who supported Hillary,” Bill told a group of Democrats after his wife's presidential campaign failed -- while staring into the eyes of a then-congressman who did not support her.