CHARLOTTE, N.C. Barack Obama shared center stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night with Bill Clinton, an enormously popular predecessor who told an overflow and enthralled crowd that he had no doubt that the president 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 on 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 was projected to create 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 recovery, 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 revenue 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."
It came from a man who arrived slowly, even grudgingly, at Obama's side after first watching his wife lose a hard-fought battle for the 2008 Democratic nomination, then had to watch Obama coast to a solid majority that had twice eluded Clinton.
But the two have grown closer, and Clinton's warm embrace Wednesday signaled not only his support, but his belief that he and his family's future are tied up in Obama's. And as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton is now one of the most popular members of the Obama administration and is not involved in politics. She is on a six-nation tour of Asia.
Delegates continue to be enamored with the former president. They laughed at his jokes, leaped to their feet and cheered almost as he was running for president.
Clinton, who served from 1993 to 2001, came into office at the end of a recession and is credited by some for helping the nation achieve a budget surplus.
With millions still out of work and trillion-dollar deficits sending the national debt soaring, Obama is looking for Clinton to vouch for his approach. The nearly 6,000 delegates saw a series of videos about small-businesses successes and the auto industry recovery and heard from former employees at companies controlled by Bain Capital, a private equity firm founded and run by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
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 second day of the convention included speeches from a slew of elected officials and supporters, including Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and former Obama administration consumer financial protection advocate, and Sandra Fluke, who sparked criticism from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh after testifying before Congress in support of Obama's decision to require some religious employers to offer access to contraception.
There was also a bit of business as Democrats late Wednesday nominated Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as their 2012 White House ticket, with Clinton officially putting Obama's name into contention.
Obama and Biden will speak tonight at Time Warner Cable Arena a smaller venue than originally planned. Convention officials announced Wednesday that the speeches would be moved from an outdoor stadium to the covered arena because the rain that's fallen since Tuesday is not expected to dissipate.