* Former U.S. president speaks at convention Wednesday night
* Clinton tenure marked by peace and U.S. economic growth
* Democrat is popular with large cross-section of Americans
By Andy Sullivan
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Sept 5 The 1988 Democratic
convention introduced Bill Clinton to the nation as a
long-winded bore. The 2012 convention may cement his status as
his party's most valuable weapon.
In his debut on the national stage, the young Arkansas
governor didn't exactly electrify the party faithful, who
cheered loudest when he said, "In closing ..." toward the end of
his 35-minute speech.
This time around, it's safe to say that few in the
convention audience will be eager for Clinton to wrap it up.
At their convention on Wednesday night, Democrats are
counting on the former president to explain to voters how their
lives would improve if they give President Barack Obama another
four years in the White House - a tricky argument to make in a
time of rising poverty, high employment and sluggish economic
As a president who oversaw a growing economy and balanced
budgets, Clinton is a particularly effective salesman for
Democrats' economic ideas, they say.
His ability to sugarcoat attacks and explain complicated
ideas in terms that voters can understand also will make him a
valuable player in the bitter, jobs-focused battle between Obama
and Republican Mitt Romney, they say. And Clinton can be an
effective ambassador to groups that have been resistant to
Obama's charms, from working-class whites to wealthy donors in
the financial industry.
"It's entirely possible that Clinton will make the case for
Obama better than Obama has ever made for himself," said former
Clinton adviser William Galston.
Clinton's public stature has grown steadily since he left
office at the beginning of 2001. With an approval rating of 66
percent, according to Gallup, he enjoys popularity among all
segments of the American public.
Nearly half of Republicans in the poll give him high marks,
which perhaps accounts for the gentle treatment he has received
from Republican presidential candidates.
Romney called Clinton's program that required welfare
recipients to get jobs a "great accomplishment."
Another Republican, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,
bragged that he worked with Clinton to balance the budget in the
1990s. He spent less time bragging about the budget battles that
led to two government shutdowns, or the divisive effort to
impeach Clinton in the aftermath of a sex scandal.
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page noted
that the prosperity that the United States enjoyed on Clinton's
watch gives him added weight when attacking Republicans on
economic topics. "The payoff for putting Mr. Clinton center
stage at the 2012 convention ... could be big," the paper wrote
After more than a decade of war and recession, voters are
more likely to think of Clinton's time in office from 1993 to
2001 as an era of peace and growth rather than sex scandals and
government shutdowns, said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
"People think of the 1990s as a prosperous period for the
country," he said.
NOT ALWAYS BEST BUDDIES
Before he won the presidency, Obama did not always look on
the Clinton era favorably.
As a state senator, Obama spoke out against Clinton's
welfare changes. As a presidential candidate, Obama questioned
Clinton's accomplishments during heated primary battles against
Clinton's wife, Hillary, that left lingering bitterness on both
Since then, the two have managed to form what Democrats
describe as a solid working relationship with both Bill and
Hillary, who has won high marks as Obama's secretary of state.
"I think that over the four years of the Obama presidency,
the tension that existed receded and real admiration took its
place," sa id John Podesta, a former Clinton chief of staff with
close ties to the Obama administration.
Clinton has praised Obama's economic policies and helped him
raise campaign money, but he occasionally has strayed off
script. He criticized Obama's attacks on Romney's business
career this year and questioned Obama's plan to let income tax
rates rise for wealthy households.
Even now, the Obama campaign isn't quite sure what Clinton
is going to say.
"He's working on his remarks and I'm sure when he's done
we'll see them," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told
reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
Clinton has appeared in a television ad for the Obama
campaign, and campaign officials say he's going to play a
significant role in the weeks leading to the Nov. 6 election.
Democrats say Clinton is especially effective speaking to
white working-class voters, a group that has been especially
resistant to Obama, the nation's first African American
president. Obama is unlikely to win a majority of these voters,
but he will have to limit his losses in order to win in
"The appeal of Bill Clinton is, he really talks to those
folks who are out there working for a living," said South
Carolina state Senator Vincent Sheheen.
Democrats say Romney missed an opportunity to lay out a
detailed job-creation plan in his convention speech last week.
They expect Clinton and other convention speakers to detail how
voters' lives would improve over the coming four years if they
"He may very well be saying the basic themes of the
convention, but he'll do it in a manner that really connects
with people," said Susan Ness, a Democratic delegate from
Maryland who has known Clinton for more than 25 years.