CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Clinton took center stage Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention in hopes of persuading middle-class voters that Barack Obama could turn a troubled economy around the same way the former president did two decades ago.
The 42nd president remains hugely popular among Democrats, and his speech was hotly anticipated by delegates yearning for a full-throated defense of Obama’s economic policies after months of attacks by Republicans on the No. 1 issue in the presidential race. Obama watched Clinton’s speech from the arena.
“He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses and lots of new wealth for the innovators,” said Clinton, who was joined on stage by Obama at the end of the convention speech.
Clinton argued that many of the problems continuing to plague the economy stemmed from previous Republican administrations and that it’s unreasonable to expect a total recovery in one term.
Republicans, he said, are arguing that they “left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in,” Clinton said. “I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”
Clinton’s endorsement was meant to signal a “good economy seal of approval” for Obama, a promise that Obama’s policies will bring back the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, when a booming economy created millions of jobs, stocks soared, and a flood of tax revenues helped balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation.
It came from a man who arrived slowly, even grudgingly, at Obama’s side after first watching his wife lose a hard-fought battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination, then had to watch Obama coast to a solid majority that had twice eluded Clinton.
But the two have grown closer, and Clinton’s warm embrace Wednesday signaled not only his support, but his belief that he and his family’s future are tied up in Obama’s. And as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is now one of the most popular members of the Obama administration and is not involved in politics. On Wednesday, as the convention convened, she landed in East Timor on a six-nation tour of Asia.
Clinton, who served from 1993 to 2001, came into office at the end of a recession and is credited by some for helping the nation achieve a budget surplus. With millions still out of work and trillion-dollar deficits sending the national debt soaring, Obama is looking for Clinton to vouch for his approach. The nearly 6,000 delegates saw a series of videos about small-business successes and the auto industry recovery and heard from former employees at companies controlled by Bain Capital, a private equity firm founded and run by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” said one of those employees, Randy Johnson. “I don’t fault him for the fact that some companies win and some companies lose. That’s a fact of life. What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits ahead of working people like me. But that’s just Romney economics.”
On Wednesday, Clinton framed the election as a choice between an Obama second term that he said would boost the middle class and a Romney administration that would not.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?” Clinton said in the prepared remarks. “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. 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.”
Clinton had to compete against the season opener for the National Football League, with the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Giants, which NBC aired instead of the convention. The game was initially set for Thursday, but the game was moved to Wednesday after Obama’s speech was scheduled for that night.
The second day of the convention — so crowded that delegates were prevented from coming into Time Warner Cable Arena — included speeches from a slew of elected officials and supporters, including Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and former Obama administration consumer financial protection advocate, and Sandra Fluke, who sparked criticism from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh after testifying before Congress in support of Obama’s decision to require some religious employers to offer access to contraception.
“Mitt Romney? He wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires,” Warren said in prepared remarks. “But for middle-class families who are hanging on by their fingernails? His plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to $2,000. Mitt Romney wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations — but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare, and vaporize Obamacare.”
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, drew a standing ovation at the mention of her mother, the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who memorably skewered George H.W. Bush at a Democratic convention 24 years ago. She said her mother had a chance to meet Obama and that “she saw in him a promise for America.”
“She believed that the American dream was not meant for just a few, it promised opportunity for everyone,” Richards said as she teared up.
She warned that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney want to turn back the clock on reproductive rights — “like a bad episode of ‘Mad Men,’ ” and added, “Mom wouldn’t have stood for it and neither will we.”
There was also a bit of business as Democrats late Wednesday nominated Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as their 2012 White House ticket, with Clinton officially putting Obama’s name into contention.
Biden and first lady Michelle Obama, who spoke Tuesday night, watched from the stands. Obama arrived in Charlotte on Wednesday. His daughters, Malia and Sasha, will arrive Thursday after school.
Obama and Biden will speak Thursday night speak at Time Warner Cable Arena — a smaller venue than originally planned.
Convention officials announced Wednesday that the speeches would be moved from an outdoor stadium to the covered arena because the rain that’s fallen since Tuesday is not expected to improve.
Republicans immediately pounced on the announcement, saying Obama could not fill the stadium, which seats 70,000. The arena seats around 20,000.
“The Democrats continue to downgrade convention events due to lack of enthusiasm — this time they are moving out of Bank of America/Panther stadium. Problems filling the seats?” a Republican National Committee statement said.
Campaign officials said they had to put safety first.