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President Bill Clinton heaps praise on President Barack Obama for 48 minutes

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Bill Clinton, who rode economic anxiety into his first term as president then oversaw a roaring comeback, gave a speech before the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that was sweeping, emotional and wildly received but carried a simple pitch: Stick with Barack Obama.

"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was actually pretty simple — pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.

"I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for innovators."

At 10:34 p.m. Clinton walked on stage to thunderous applause, the Time Warner Cable Arena echoing with people clapping along with the old Clinton theme song, Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop. Signs everywhere proclaimed "Middle-Class First."

For nearly an hour, he held court, punching and lecturing and scolding. And at the end, Clinton was joined on stage by Obama. The two embraced to euphoric cheers as Democrats reprised a line from 2008: "We are fired up."

Clinton began his speech by saying, "I want to nominate a man who is cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside. And after last night, I want a man who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama" — a line that drew a standing ovation.

Clinton launched into a withering critique of Republican philosophy, blasting what he said was failed trickle-down economics, and went straight at Mitt Romney and his GOP running mate Paul Ryan. He pointedly rebutted claims that Obama had weakened welfare work requirements and said Ryan was hypocritical for attacking Medicare savings under Obama that were included in Ryan's own budget blueprint.

"It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," Clinton said, veering from his prepared remarks.

But squarely addressing independent voters who are critical to the November outcome, Clinton said that for all the disagreements he never grew to "hate" Republicans the way, he said, the far-right now loathes Obama. "The politics of constant conflict may be good," he said, adding that what works in the real world is cooperation.

"Look at his record, look at his record," Clinton said, noting Obama had appointed Republicans and a vice president who ran against him in 2008.

"Heck, he even appointed Hillary!" Clinton said.

Assuming a role traditionally reserved for vice presidents, Clinton nominated a man he once saw as a rival to a political dynasty and underscored why he has become an increasingly vital part of Obama's campaign strategy.

His speech electrified the arena. But its potency may be outside, where a new poll showed 69 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Clinton and he has a proven ability to connect with working-class voters, whose faith in Obama has frayed.

As scores of speakers over the past two days have done, Clinton used his prime-time address before a national television audience to attack Romney and to frame the election as a question of two competing visions.

"The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in? If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket," Clinton said. "If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we're-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."

When Clinton finished, the state-by-state vote of delegates proceeded, making Obama the official nominee. He will address the convention tonight but not in the football stadium where it had been planned. Democrats said the threat of severe weather forced them to move the speech to the much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will also speak.

The venue change was not the only stumble Wednesday.

As the day began, Democrats backtracked and voted, at Obama's direction, to amend their platform with language declaring Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Delegates also scrambled and reinserted a reference to God in the platform that had been stripped out from a section about government allowing a person to reach their God-given potential.

Both issues created a firestorm of criticism from Republicans and forced the retreat but the vote did not come without dissension and Republicans pounced on unflattering news coverage that used words such as "chaos" and "dumb."

The night lacked some of the energy from Tuesday, which featured Mrs. Obama, but roared back as the clock moved past 10 p.m., with a speech from Sandra Fluke, a young woman who became a national figure after being shut out of a congressional hearing on contraception. Continuing a tactic of painting the GOP as hostile to women's issues, Fluke described "a country where our president either has our back or turns his back."

She was followed by Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. Senate candidate from Massachusetts, who said Romney and Ryan "would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare, and vaporize Obamacare."

The Clinton-Obama union had rocky beginnings.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama fought hard with Hillary Rodham Clinton and the former president joined the fray. The two had little contact as Obama began his tenure, the economy plunging.

But, as a story in the New Yorker this week laid out, they reconciled their differences over a game of golf last September, and Clinton has become an increasingly visible partner. Shades of old friction have poked through, such as when Clinton stepped on the Democratic message and said Romney had a "sterling" business record.

Romney's record in private equity has become central rallying point for Democrats, who have cast him as corporate raider and called attention to his wealth. Among the convention speakers Wednesday was a former worker at a Miami company that Bain Capital acquired and closed, eliminating 850 jobs.

"Of course I understand that some companies are successful and others are not — that's the way our economy works," said the worker, Cindy Hewitt. "But it's wrong when dedicated, productive employees feel the pain while folks like Mitt Romney make profits."

Clinton is now featured in a television ad for Obama that is in heavy rotation nationally, and on Wednesday the campaign released a Spanish-langauge ad featuring Clinton that will play in Florida and other states with large Hispanic populations.

Clinton is expected to hit the campaign trail with Obama and Democrats hope he will be particularly effective in the South and among white, working-class voters.

"Bill Clinton has a very folksy style and he speaks from the heart. He's going to touch a certain group of voters that the president may not reach as effectively," said Dale Miller, 62, a delegate from Cleveland.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted President Bill Clinton. He said: "In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was actually pretty simple — pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.

"I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for innovators."

President Bill Clinton heaps praise on President Barack Obama for 48 minutes 09/05/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 5:38pm]
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