Now Clinton's relations with Capitol Hill are key - including his sometimes difficult relations with members of his own party.
Previous presidents in a tight fix turned to party elders for legislative muscle. But Clinton has no such option.
He didn't come to Washington trying to court congressional leaders, and observers say Clinton never did build up much of a power base on Capitol Hill.
He prefers a direct appeal to voters, often through television or town meetings. Then, it's the voters, not the president, who pressure Congress to fall in line.
Sometimes this tactic has worked very well. Sometimes it hasn't. Now, when so much is at stake, it's much more difficult.
One reason, say observers, is that Clinton long since chose what he described as "the third way" - that is, neither conservative, like Reagan-era Republicans, nor liberal, like many traditional Democrats.
Clinton's analysis - many years ago - was that no traditional liberal Democrat had a chance of winning the White House.
Now Clinton's destiny lies in the hands of conservative Republicans and members of his own party, who have sometimes been his harshest critics.He will need their support now - more than ever - just to hold onto his political life.
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved