CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Assuming the role of advocate in chief, former President Clinton delivered a resounding endorsement of President Obama on Wednesday night, saying he inherited a terrible economic situation and kept it from getting worse.
“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up, so fire him and put us back in,” Clinton said in remarks prepared for his prime-time speech, the climax of the second day of the Democratic National Convention.
“I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better,” Clinton went on. “He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash [and] began the long hard road to recovery.”
The vouching of one president for another provided a high-minded note for what had been an evening of unrelenting attacks on the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan.
Preceding Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, the consumer crusader and liberal heroine, delivered a fiery populist address, saying the pair would undermine the middle class by slashing the social safety net.
Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires … but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform,” she said, shaking her head, “voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare.”
“President Obama believes in a level playing field,” she said. “He believes in a country where nobody gets a free ride or a golden parachute.”
Running into stiff headwinds resulting from a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Obama and his fellow Democrats have sought to turn the November election from a referendum on the past 3½ years to a choice between the incumbent and his Republican rival, a former Massachusetts governor.
One after another, speakers sought Wednesday night to paint that choice in the starkest terms.
“The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in,” Clinton asked. “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama.”
Speakers praised Obama’s record: passing healthcare reform, fighting to lower student loan costs, supporting veterans, bailing out the U.S. auto industry. They said things have gotten better under his watch — the country is no longer hemorrhaging jobs, they noted, even if the rate of recovery is disappointing. But the great weight of effort Wednesday seemed intended to cast Romney in the least flattering light.
There were aggrieved stories from workers who said they suffered when Romney’s Bain Capital took over their companies. “I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” said Randy Johnson, a former factory worker. “What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits ahead of people like me.”
Speakers asserted Romney’s privileged upbringing and considerable wealth meant he could not feel for those suffering economically.
“We certainly want those at the top to do well,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer. “But if you base your entire presidency and your entire economic platform on helping them do even better, you’re missing what makes the economy tick, because not everyone has been as fortunate as Mitt Romney. You cannot base your whole approach on a life experience as rarefied as his.”
One after another, women invoked Romney’s opposition to legal abortion and proposal to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying it would turn back the clock on their rights.
“We’ve come so far, we’ve come so far, so why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of ‘Mad Men.’ ”
For his part, Romney laid low a second day, locked away in debate preparation at a retreat in Vermont. But he briefly surfaced in a Fox News interview, saying granting Obama a second term would be “a big mistake.”
“I don’t think the American people want to see this president get another four years,” Romney said. “These last four years have not been good for the middle class in America…. This has not been a good time for the American people.”
Clinton’s appearance was the highlight of Wednesday night’s program, which did not get off without a few hitches. First, Obama’s acceptance speech was moved from the Carolina Panthers’ outdoor football stadium to the much-smaller convention arena because of concerns about the weather.
Then Democrats had to clean up a mess arising from Tuesday’s adoption of their platform, a broad statement of the party’s principles.
Opening the day’s session, Democratic leaders bulldozed through an amendment putting the word “God” back into the document and restating the party’s support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Both had been omitted from the original draft and Republicans had seized on the absence to question both the Democrats’ godliness and their commitment to the key U.S. ally. Obama, who landed Wednesday in the convention city, personally intervened to make the change, according to Democrats familiar with his concerns.
It took three tries, however, and a disputed decision by the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to decide the change had the required support of two-thirds of the delegates. To many listeners, the voice vote seemed at least evenly divided, and many on the floor expressed anger afterward.
With the amendments passed, Democrats immediately swung into the evening program, which again was heavily scripted with female and Latino speakers, in an appeal to those important constituencies.
Clinton’s official placing of Obama’s name in nomination was a first for an ex-president.
More than 20 million jobs were created during Clinton’s eight years in office, and for many his administration is shrouded in a rosy reverence, despite impeachment and other scandals.
Even at the height of those controversies, Democrats never lost their affection for Clinton, the only member of the party since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms in the White House.
(The result of the roll call vote, officially installing Obama as the party’s November standard-bearer, was scheduled as Wednesday’s last order of business and, even though the proceedings were expected to push past midnight, the outcome was not in doubt.)
The two men were adversaries four years ago, when Obama dueled Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a fierce contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The hard feelings lingered long after, even though Clinton spoke favorably at Obama’s nominating convention in Denver.
Since then, the two have forged a much closer alliance — no one would mistake it for personal friendship — as Hillary Clinton joined the Obama administration as secretary of State. The ex-president has become an important fundraiser and Obama advocate.
A TV spot featuring Clinton’s endorsement has been in heavy rotation in North Carolina and was frequently seen during last week’s GOP convention in Florida; both are battleground states with a large number of the more conservative, economically hard-pressed Democrats for whom Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, has a special affinity.
Warren helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to the near-financial meltdown of 2009 and was recruited by Democrats to run against GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. She has struggled in that race, however, and Wednesday night’s appearance was an important opportunity to invigorate her campaign.
Warren and her fellow Democrats had some competition, though, from the National Football League, which opened its season with a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. NBC opted to carry the game rather than the convention.
But it was not just pro football that intruded on the Democratic gathering.
Party officials announced Wednesday that Obama’s acceptance speech, the Thursday night convention finale, would move from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor arena that hosted the first two nights of the convention.
With rain drenching Charlotte intermittently since Sunday, party officials had been closely watching the forecasts. On Tuesday, they insisted the event would go on rain or shine. But the possibility of lightning forced them to reconsider “to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests,” Democratic Convention Committee Chief Executive Steve Kerrigan said in a statement Wednesday morning.
Republicans suggested Democrats moved the speech because they couldn’t fill the stadium. But the Obama campaign denied that, saying it had credentialed 65,000 people and had a waiting list of 19,000 more who had been turned away.
Seema Mehta and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.