CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Barack Obama shared center stage at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night with Bill Clinton, an enormously popular predecessor who delivered a powerful endorsement of the president's record, telling an overflow crowd that he had no doubt Obama could turn the troubled economy around if given a second term.
The tens of thousands of delegates and supporters who jammed into Time Warner Cable Arena responded with sustained applause and standing ovations. They waved signs, "Middle Class First," and chanted "Four more years!"
"I love our country -- and I know we're coming back," Clinton said. "For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we've always come out stronger than we went in. And we will again as long as we do it together. We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor -- to form a more perfect union. If that's what you believe, if that's what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama."
The 42nd president remains hugely popular among Democrats, and his speech was hotly anticipated by delegates yearning for a full-throated defense of Obama's economic policies after months of attacks by Republicans on the No. 1 issue in the presidential race.
Before he arrived on stage, the delegates and guests began clapping and dancing along with a video that played Clinton's campaign theme song, Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." During the speech, the former president had the delegates leaping to their feet as he delivered a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal to every Republican criticism of Obama, from the 2009 stimulus package to a recent change to welfare regulations.
The speech was vintage Clinton. He frequently veered from his prepared remarks -- and went way long -- and had the crowd in stitches. "We love you, Bill!" they screamed.
Obama had watched Clinton's speech from the arena after arriving in Charlotte Wednesday afternoon. He appeared from behind the stage after Clinton's 47-minute speech to deafening cheers. The two men hugged as the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down" played.
Clinton not only blamed Republicans for causing the problems in the economy in the first place, but for preventing Obama from allowing the economy to fully recover. For example, he said, House Republicans have failed to pass the president's jobs plan that would have created more than a million new jobs.
He argued that it's unreasonable to expect a total recovery in one term, but that Obama has created jobs and cut taxes through the stimulus, the auto industry bailout and an agreement with management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage over the next few years.
Clinton's endorsement was meant to signal a "good economy seal of approval" for Obama, a promise that Obama's policies will bring back the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, when a booming economy created millions of jobs, stocks soared, and a flood of tax revenues helped balance the federal budget for the first time in a generation.
"A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people do not feel it yet," Clinton said. "I had experienced the same thing in 1994 and early 1995. Our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn't feel it yet."
"President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now, no president -- not me or any of my predecessors -- no one could have fully repaired all the damage in just four years," Clinton said "But he has laid the foundations ... and if you'll renew the president's contract, you will feel it. You will feel it."
"Are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not," Clinton continued. "But are we better off than we were when he took office?"
"Yes!" the audience screamed.
On Wednesday, Clinton framed the election as a choice between an Obama second term that he said would boost the middle class and a Romney administration that would not.
"The most important question is, what kind of country do you want to live in?" Clinton said in the prepared remarks. "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 and Joe Biden."
Clinton countered Republican attacks that Obama both weakened Medicare and Clinton's own welfare to work initiative.He noted Romney's running mate Paul Ryan had accused Obama of "robbing" Medicare of $716 billion, noting that it's the same amount of money that Ryan has proposed in his budget.
"It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," said Clinton said, in one of his frequent adlibs from his prepared remarks.
He called the welfare charge a real "doozy."
"As their campaign pollster said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.' Now that is true," Clinton said. "I couldn't have said it better myself -- I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad."