CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second act of President Barack Obama’s three-day, prime-time convention culminated with the Democrats’ most popular politician, former President Bill Clinton, countering the Republicans’ convention pitches from a week ago and endorsing the president’s re-election.
Obama quickly repaid the favor — and sucked up much of the applause — by making a brief surprise appearance on the stage to embrace Clinton as he ended his speech.
Clinton’s appearance and endorsement prompted a rock-star reception from the 20,000 Democrats who had waited for five hours while numerous speakers sought to woo swing-voting women, bilingual Latinos and blue-collar Midwestern workers.
Obama’s re-election campaign used Clinton’s appearance to directly attack several of Gov. Mitt Romney’s strongest campaign themes, including his criticism of Obama’s rollback of welfare-to-work policies, his cuts of $716 billion from Medicare and his deficit-exploding spending plans.
Romney’s welfare criticism “is a real doozy,” Clinton declared. “The claim that President Obama weakened welfare reform’s work requirement is just not true … [but] it is important because a lot of people believe it.”
Obama’s Medicare cutback of $716 billion is actually a program to “save money by cutting unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies,” Clinton claimed.
“Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare, they strengthened it,” he insisted.
Clinton’s speech also directly challenged Clint Eastwood’s advice Aug. 30 at the GOP convention to view Obama as a failed CEO who should be fired.
“Are we where we want to be? No,” Clinton said, before offering hope of a change.
The economy is recovering and “if you renew the president’s contract … you will feel it, you will feel it,” he said.
Clinton’s long speech prompted numerous waves of applause and will likely generate favorable media coverage for Obama.
Polling firms will gauge its impact on the close-fought race over the next few weeks.
The GOP quickly replied.
“President Clinton drew a stark contrast between himself and President Obama tonight,” said a statement from Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman.
“Bill Clinton worked with Republicans, balanced the budget, and after four years he could say you were better off [while] Obama hasn’t worked across the aisle — he’s barely worked with other Democrats — and has the worst economic record of any president in modern history,” said Williams’ statement. “President Clinton’s speech brought the disappointment and failure of President Obama’s time in office clearly into focus.”
Clinton also endorsed Obama’s re-election, although without mentioning some of Obama’s most controversial measures related to abortion and marriage.
“My fellow Americans, you have to decide what kind of country you want to live in,” said Clinton’s text. “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket.”
“But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” he declared.
The day’s major flub in stage-management came at the opening curtain, when delegates loudly booed the effort by Obama’s deputies to rewrite the party’s official platform, approved just a day earlier.
That agenda, decided several days early and pre-approved by Obama and his deputies, had deleted any mention of God and had eliminated the normal mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
Convention managers ignored the boos and opposition, and declared the script to have been rewritten, but the bad-stage management diverted media attention and likely will damage Obama’s support among one small but well-placed group: Jews in swing-state Florida.
The restoration of God to the platform likely will help his outreach to African-Americans, who are facing painful unemployment and crime rates, and education problems.
Their role was highlighted by a revival-tent speech from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who used Christian ideas to boost Obama’s chances for a second term in the White House. The audience at the Time Warner Cable Arena, and especially African-Americans in the North Carolina delegation, wildly cheered his speech.
The evening-long show recycled the women-Latinos-workers theme several times to drive messaging to the ever-changing national audience of casual TV watchers.
The final cycle began with Sandra Fluke, a feminist abortion and contraception advocate, and then offered Elizabeth Warren, a progressive activist whose bid for a Massachusetts Senate seat sees her slipping in the polls.
Warren warmed up the enthusiastic audience for Clinton with a message that urged tighter regulation of banks, lauded the now-deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy and cited biblical scripture.