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Clinton fires Democrats up to reelect President Obama

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Bill Clinton strode onto the royal blue carpeted stage Wednesday night, his campaign theme song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” blasted through the arena. A more appropriate anthem might have been that Democratic oldie: “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Shouts of “We love you, Bill Clinton” echoed in the Democratic convention hall. The former president was fixing to tell the country why President Obama deserved another four years. And an overflow partisan crowd of more than 20,000 ate it up.

The delegates were like jumping jacks, cheering his repeated and generous praise for Obama and, at one point, for Obama’s secretary of State and his own wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. They roared their assent when he asked whether the country was better off now than when Obama took office.

But at other moments, they sat rapt, watching and listening as Clinton showed he hadn’t lost his ability to cast a spell, riffing off Ronald Reagan saying, “There you go again,” and bringing the crowd to its feet by mocking Republican vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan for his “brass.”

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“He’s still got it. Bubba’s still good,” said Keith Williams, 56, a delegate from Detroit. “He told the story of America.”

“I looooooved it!” shouted Mississippi delegate Curley Clark, as he waved an American flag in one hand and a “Middle class first” placard in the other. “We’re going to turn Mississippi blue!” said Clark, 62, who is from Pascagoula. “Bill Clinton has a way of speaking in common language to common people and getting the truth out there about the lies being told by Republicans.”

Dan McConnell from Minneapolis wanted to hear how “to move the country forward and how to get back to the prosperity we had when he was in office. The guy’s just so smart. He can think on his feet. The way he can speak extemporaneously — it’s still amazing.”

Clinton, the only two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt, had been asked by Obama to formally place his name in nomination. But Clinton’s presence served other, larger purposes.

He was there to embody the economically prosperous 1990s.

Privately, some Democrats say Clinton is better able to make the case for Obama’s reelection than Obama himself.

Clinton was given the top spot on the convention’s penultimate night — a slot traditionally allotted to the vice presidential nominee (Joe Biden will speak instead as a warm-up act for Obama on Thursday).

Roann Cramer, a 55-year-old banker from Minneapolis, said: “Bill Clinton reaches into my heart and tells my story from my lips. It is just like he knows what is important to me. And he tells it in a way that he knows what I’m thinking about.”

Obama, she said, does it in a different way. “It’s not as emotional,” she said.

But Carin Chase, a 48-year-old mom and activist from Edmonds, Wash., said she thought Clinton’s role should be “supporting.”

“Sometimes when you’re not in the limelight you have to stand back so other people can be in the limelight,” she said.

Alice Boyd, a 70-year-old retired teacher from Des Moines, was a Hillary Clinton supporter and admits it was hard for her to get over the epic primary fight of 2008.

“I’m still looking for her to come back. And I think she will,” Boyd said, adding that she’s saving her Hillary buttons for next time.

It was the former president’s seventh major address in a row to a Democratic convention. And it showcased his ability to reduce a complicated argument to its essentials.

“He’s still the single best messenger on the economy that either party has,” said Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee, a top aide in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

After Clinton and Obama exited the stage with the crowd still roaring, rhythmic chants of the campaign’s slogan “Fired up! Ready to go!” filled the air.

paul.west@latimes.com

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Times staff writers Robin Abcarian and Alana Semuels contributed to this report.


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