Bill Clinton: Who needs a script?

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina Thu Sep 6, 2012 1:47pm EDT

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves as he arrives to address the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves as he arrives to address the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - When you're Bill Clinton, you don't really need a script.

The former president electrified the Democratic convention on Wednesday night with an impassioned defense of President Barack Obama's record and a sharp denunciation of the economic policies of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

The 48-minute address was classic Clinton: folksy, funny and at times professorial. He detailed Obama's first-term challenges in simple language, all the while treating the prepared text of the speech as more of a rough outline.

Although the text prepared for delivery measured about 3,200 words, Clinton's speech to a roaring crowd of Democrats and tens of millions of television viewers clocked in at more than 5,000 words.

Even his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, could not resist a crack about his fondness for long-winded digressions.

"My husband read parts of his speech to me over the last few days. I received the 'as prepared' version, which I'm anxious - when I can - to compare with the 'as delivered' version," she told reporters while on a visit to East Timor, where she watched the speech after meeting the prime minister.

It was nothing new for Bill Clinton, who is known for winging much of his 1994 State of the Union address after the wrong version was loaded into the teleprompter.

As delivered, Wednesday's speech was filled with Southern colloquialisms like "y'all" and "ain't." Clinton offered frequent embellishments to a text that Obama campaign officials acknowledged on Wednesday would be a work-in-progress until the moment Clinton spoke.

When Clinton described the audacity of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's criticism of Obama's cuts in the Medicare health program for seniors - the same cuts Ryan offered in his own budget - he ad libbed his own description.

"It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," Clinton said.

He also added a riff on founding father George Washington, the first president, to a prepared testimonial on America's resilience.

"People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden, false teeth," he said.

It was the kind of speech that audiences love - and Clinton knew it. The crowd in Charlotte interrupted him to applaud and laugh more than 100 times, according to official transcripts.

"Now you're having a good time," he said at one point, "But this is getting serious, and I want you to listen."

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Alistair Bell and Alden Bentley)

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