Former President Bill Clinton set up Obama's speech with a rollicking turn on the stage Wednesday in which he offered a strong defense of the president's economic stewardship.
"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," said Clinton — the last president to see sustained growth, in the 1990s. "Conditions are improving and if you'll renew the president's contract, you will feel it."
Clinton also preached bipartisanship and a pullback from politics as "blood sport" — this near the end of back-to-back conventions that feasted on rhetorical red meat and even as he ripped the Republican agenda as a throwback to the past, a "double-down on trickle-down" economics that assumes tax cuts for the wealthy will help everyone down the ladder.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, also appearing on morning talk shows, said Clinton's speech had set out the economic choices, "so now the president can talk about the future having some of that underbrush out of the way."
Obama watched Clinton's speech from backstage, then strolled out and embraced him, bringing happy roars from the crowd in his first appearance at the convention.
It was no accident the president devoted many stops on a pre-convention tour of battleground states to campus crowds of the sort that lifted him to the Democratic nomination and the presidency last time.
"Barack's challenge here is to sort of wake up America and make them realize how serious this election is," Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said in an interview at the convention. Judging from his town hall meetings in August, when only 15 or 20 people showed up instead of the usual hundreds, there is a "big apathy about politics right now," regardless of party.
Farr added: "If we have an apathetic America, I'm terrified."
Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a past Democratic Party chairman who appeared on "CBS This Morning," said he's still worried "about the base turning out to the degree they did" for Obama in 2008. He cited the battleground states of North Carolina and Virginia in particular.
Speaking of the convention speeches delivered by the first lady and the former president, Rendell added: "The beauty of Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton is they stoked the base."
Motivation was not an issue in the convention hall, at least not when Clinton spoke.
The hall rocked with cheers as Clinton strode onstage to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," his 1992 campaign theme song, and he held the crowd rapt as he drifted off his prepared remarks for about 50 minutes.
He 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."
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Ken Thomas, Matt Michaels and Jim Kuhnhenn in Charlotte; Jennifer Agiesta, Jack Gillum and Josh Lederman in Washington; Kasie Hunt in Vermont and Thomas Beaumont and Steve Peoples in Iowa contributed to this report.
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