The uneasiness around Mr. Clinton may serve as a warning sign for others considering their political futures in the party. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president, has been struggling to address his role leading the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, recently drew criticism for questioning the #MeToo movement.
Several party strategists who have been in discussions with Democrats weighing presidential bids suggested that reckoning with Mr. Clintonâs legacy could become a litmus test in the 2020 primary race, with candidates being asked whether he should have resigned after the affair became public.
The Clintons recently announced a 13-city arena tour, produced by Live Nation, guaranteeing theyâll continue to be in the spotlight into the spring. Some Democrats worry the tour will become a distraction just as the party attempts to shape a national message that could effectively challenge President Trump in the presidential election.
The couple still has pull, in part because of their decades-long personal relationships with so many strategists, donors and activists. Few Democrats were eager to talk publicly about Mr. Clintonâs future role in the party. Though theyâre reluctant to say it out loud, Mr. Clintonâs political exile is an open secret in Democratic circles.
At a rare public appearance by Mrs. Clinton last week in South Florida to benefit Donna Shalalaâs House campaign, Ms. Shalala â a former Clinton administration cabinet secretary â lavished praise on the Democratsâ 2016 presidential nominee, calling her âwonder womanâ and âone of the great political leaders of our times.â When asked whether sheâd invite Mr. Clinton to come campaign for her, Ms. Shalala passed on the idea: “He has a great political mind. I actually havenât talked to him myself.â
Mr. Clintonâs absence from the campaign trail is all the more striking given the number of candidates with close ties to the Clinton legacy. Beyond Mr. Espy, thereâs Ms. Shalala, also a former president of the Clinton Foundation, and Nancy Soderberg, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a White House national security aide under Mr. Clinton. Both are running for House seats in Florida.
Former Clinton speechwriter Josh Gottheimer is running for re-election to a House seat in New Jersey. J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor of Illinois, is a family friend and, like a number of other candidates across the country, supported Mrs. Clintonâs presidential campaign.