CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Declaring that "America is better off" than it was when Barack Obama became president, former President Clinton lauded the record of his Democratic successor and skewered his Republican rival, depicting the choice before voters as one between "a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society" and a "we're-all-in-this-together society."
His voice thinner and raspier but his oratorical gifts unchanged, Clinton delivered a 48-minute address that alternated between lengthy discussions of policy and partisan jabs leavened with humor and admonitions that "this is important, I want you to listen."
Mitt Romney, he said, would "double down on trickle down." His own administration had balanced the budget four times, simply by "arithmetic," he said. By contrast, Romney's "numbers just don't add up."
Republicans had quadrupled the national debt in the 12 years before he became president and doubled it again in the eight years that followed, Clinton said, not mentioning that the deficit also has grown under Obama. Romney's plans, he warned, would "explode the debt and destroy the economy."
And he sought to lend to Obama his own image as a president who practiced bipartisan compromise.
"What works in the real world is cooperation," he said.
"Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is always the enemy," he said, "and compromise is weakness."
The Republican argument, he said, boiled down to this: "We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him, and put us back in.
"As another president once said, 'There they go again,'" he said, quoting the Republican icon, Ronald Reagan.
Clinton, his image resurrected in the years since his tainted presidency, was greeted with adulation on the floor of the convention.
Even before turning over the second night of the event to him, the Obama campaign had relied heavily on Clinton.
A TV advertisement featuring the former president has been airing heavily in North Carolina and Florida, both battleground states with a large number of the more conservative, financially hard-pressed Democrats among whom Clinton is more popular than Obama.
In an election dominated by voters' concerns over the economy, Clinton sought to offer Obama the credibility that comes from having presided over a period of rapid economic growth, near-full employment and balanced budgets.
"He has unbelievable legitimacy as the only president who has brought a generalized prosperity," said Stanley Greenberg, who was the pollster for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.
When voters talk about the late 1990s -- Clinton's second term -- they often say, "That's when I had money," Greenberg said.
Voters also don't see Clinton "as a shill for Obama," Greenberg said, in part because of the battle between Obama and Clinton's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the 2008 Democratic nomination. "He has the distance and independence to make the case."
Clinton emphasized that point in an interview before his speech.
"We haven't been close friends a long time or anything like that," Clinton told NBC anchorman Brian Williams. "It is, from my point of view, not a transaction or a bromance or any of that sort of stuff."
NBC was the one network not to air the speech live because of its contract to air the NFL season-opening game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.