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CHARLOTTE -- Former President Bill Clinton, once a political foe of President Barack Obama, made a strong case that he's one of the nominee's best surrogates Wednesday, especially when it comes to bringing independents into the Democratic re-election effort.
In a speech that was repeatedly interrupted by standing ovations and often veered from the prepared remarks on his Teleprompter, Clinton took on nearly every criticism that Republicans leveled at Obama last week at their party convention in Tampa. Clinton's wide-ranging speech defended several aspects of Obama's record, including his health care law, the controversial Recovery Act, the restructuring of cash-strapped American auto companies and even his choice of Joe Biden as vice president.
"We believe 'we're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'you're on your own,'" Clinton said in a speech that went on for nearly an hour. "I want to nominate a man who's cool on the outside but burns for America on the inside."
Clinton even took on the question that Republicans have used in their convention counter-programming this week, arguing that the country is better off than it was when Obama first took office.
"Are we better off than we were when he took office? Listen to this, listen to this," he said, clearly enjoying an audience hanging on his every word. "When President Obama took office, the economy was in a free fall, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Are we doing better than that today? The answer is yes."
Speaking from experience, Clinton defended Obama from critics who blame him for overseeing what many have felt is a painstakingly slow recovery from the 2008 recession.
"No president, not me or any of my predecessors, could have repaired all the damage in just four years," he said, going on to suggest that Obama's work was only half finished.
The theme--that electing Republicans would stall the progress of an administration still struggling to turn around the economy--is one that has been repeated throughout the week. On Wednesday, Clinton hammered the point home.
"He inherited a deeply damaged economy," Clinton said of Obama, "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."
The biggest problem for Democrats, Republicans point out, is that the country is still on that road--and looking for a fast way off.
But during a Democratic convention that up until this point appeared to be geared toward the liberal wing of the party, Clinton's remarks were tailored to independents who might tune in during prime time. He made his arguments comprehensively, weaving personal stories in and out of his pitch for the president.
"Conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it," Clinton said. "Whether the American people believe that or not might decide the whole election. I just want you to know that I believe it."
When Clinton finished, he bowed to Obama, who joined him on the stage. The two embraced before walking offstage together.