CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In an impassioned speech that rocked the Democratic National Convention, former President Bill Clinton proclaimed Wednesday night, "I know we're coming back" from the worst economic mess in generations and appealed to hard-pressed Americans to stick with Barack Obama for a second term in the White House.
Obama strode onstage as Clinton wound up his speech, and the former president bowed. Obama pulled him into an embrace as thousands of delegates jammed into the convention hall roared their approval.
Conceding that many struggling in a slow-recovery economy don't yet feel improvement, Clinton said circumstances are indeed getting better, "and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it."
To the cheers of thousands of Democrats packed into their convention hall, he said of Obama, "I want to nominate a man who is cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside."
The race for the White House is a close one between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and the president's campaign hoped Clinton's speech would prove especially persuasive in an era of sluggish economic growth and 8.3 percent unemployment.
Clinton is exceptionally popular 12 years after he left office, particularly among white men, a group among whom Obama polls poorly.
The speech was deemed so important that convention planners delayed Obama's formal nomination to a second term until Clinton had finished speaking. The familiar roll call of the states began well after television prime time in the eastern part of the country, and was on pace to last until well past midnight.
Clinton spoke as Obama's high command worked to control the political fallout from an embarrassing retreat on the party platform, just two months from Election Day in the tight race with Republican Romney.
Under criticism from Romney, the Obama camp abruptly rewrote the day-old document to insert a reference to God and to declare that Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel." Some delegates objected loudly, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, presiding in the largely-empty hall, ruled them outvoted. White House aides said Obama had personally ordered the changes, but they did not disclose whether he had approved the earlier version.
The speech was vintage Clinton, overlong for sure, insults delivered with a folksy grin, references to his own time in office and his wife Hillary, all designed to improve Obama's shaky re-election prospects.
The convention hall rocked with delegates' applause and cheers the former president strode onstage to sounds of "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," his 1992 campaign theme song.
He sought to rebut every major criticism Republicans leveled against the president at their own convention last week in Tampa, and said that in fact, since 1961, far more jobs have been created under Democratic presidents than when Republicans sat in the White House — " by a margin of 42 million to 24 million.
Clinton accused Republicans of proposing "the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place" and led to a near financial meltdown. Those, he said, include efforts to provide "tax cuts for higher-income Americans, more money for defense than the Pentagon wants and ... deep cuts on programs that help the middle class and poor children."
"As another president once said, 'There they go again,'" he said, quoting Ronald Reagan, who often uttered the remark as a rebuke to Democrats.
There was another reference to Reagan, whom Democrats routinely accused of advocating "trickle down economics" that favored the rich.
" We simply cannot afford to turn the reins of government over to someone who will double down on trickle-down," Clinton said.