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Bill Clinton steps up to lay out the case for Obama, Democrats


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Democrats formally nominated President Barack Obama for a second term following a rousing speech from former President Bill Clinton casting Obama as a centrist dealmaker and a candidate who did his best to avert a recession.

Clinton, one of the most popular figures in American politics today, delivered a speech portraying his fellow Democrat as a well-intentioned moderate who was spurned by Republicans throughout the past four years – following the trail first blazed by Clinton in the 1990s.

Slideshow: Democratic National Convention

Almost seemingly responding to Republicans’ use of a well-worn argument in recent days, asking whether Americans are better off today than they were four years ago, when Obama was elected, Clinton said the answer was a definitive “yes.”

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Former President Bill Clinton speaks on stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.

Are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not,” Clinton said. “But are we better off than we were when he took office?” The crowd replied with shouts of yes. 

Of the precarious economic situation Obama faced upon assuming office, Clinton added that “no one could have repaired all the damage he found in just four years.”

The speech by Clinton, a former adversary of Obama’s when his wife, Hillary Clinton was competing against Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination, drew one of the most energetic responses of the second day of the Democratic National Convention.

At the outset of his speech, Clinton also formally entered Obama’s name up for the Democratic presidential nomination, something that the convention officially ratified in a state-by-state roll call vote early Thursday morning.

NBC News political director Chuck Todd talks with former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, about former President Bill Clinton's preparation for his speech to the DNC, how he's developed a connection with independent voters, and the evolution of his relationship with President Obama.

Obama himself joined Clinton onstage shortly after the conclusion of his speech, which had to battle a marquee, prime-time opening-night NFL matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants across the television dial.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has repeatedly referenced the former Democratic president on the campaign trail, in order to argue that Obama has governed well to the left of Clinton, whose centrism was a core element of his political identity.

Clinton indirectly rebuffed that by painting the president as an actor who genuinely sought compromise.

“One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation,” said Clinton.

And Clinton on Wednesday evening rejected Romney’s proposals as inconsistent and fiscally unsound.

Of Romney’s balanced budget proposals, Clinton said: “The Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility; the numbers don’t add up.”

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton hugs President Barack Obama on stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.

The former president’s speech was the highlight of second day of the Democratic National Convention that seemed to largely chug along at a lower energy level than Tuesday’s opening festivities, when speakers led the audience in call-and-response cheers, and speeches by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and first lady Michelle Obama won multiple ovations.

For the second night in a row, Democrats featured final speakers who took a less personal tone toward the Republican Party, a contrast to earlier speeches featuring unrelenting and aggressive attacks on the GOP. Democrats have broadcast their intention to showcase a sharp "contrast" betwen Obama and Romney during the convention, a consistent theme in Tuesday's speeches that continued into most of Wednesday.

Democrats’ Wednesday night schedule featured some re-shuffling, most notably pushing contraceptive rights activist Sandra Fluke’s speech – unabashed in its criticism of Romney and the GOP – into the prime-time slot nationally broadcast by most networks.

She said that in a Romney administration, “Your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs ... It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms.”

Fluke spoke shortly before another Democratic favorite, Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, took the stage to deliver a strong defense of Obama.

Related:Warren attacks 'rigged' political, economic system

Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts and a favorite of liberal activists, played on a broad sense of middle class anxiety in her speech, portraying Obama as the only antidote to voters’ hardships.

She delivered a plainly populist speech, suggesting to Americans that the deck is stacked against them – a stark contrast to the Republican message that opportunity expands as business is freed from regulation.

Women's rights activist Sandra Fluke speaks at the DNC on Wednesday.

“People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: they're right. The system is rigged,” she said, adding: “We're Americans. We celebrate success. We just don't want the game to be rigged.”

She also seized on Romney’s line more than a year ago at the Iowa State Fair, in which the then-candidate said, “Corporations are people, my friend,” in response to a heckler.

“No, Gov. Romney, corporations are not people,” Warren said to rising applause from the audience. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters – that matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that's why we need Barack Obama.”

Other speakers on Wednesday took more direct strides toward leveling specific attacks and courting specific groups of voters.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., gives an impassioned speech at the DNC, Wednesday, backing the reelection campaign of President Obama.

The Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, was one of the most memorable early speakers on Wednesday. An ordained United Methodist minister, Cleaver brought the crowd to its feet with a refrain of "Move on!" at one point marching in place to exhort fellow Democrats to work this fall for Obama.

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, was meanwhile charged with taking on Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, budget panel chairman and personal friend of Van Hollen’s.

Related: Ryan tries to draw wedge between Clinton, Obama 

“If Paul Ryan was being honest, he would have pointed to that debt clock and said: 'We built that,'" said Van Hollen, referring to the clock at last week’s Republican National Convention tabulating mounting U.S. debt during the gathering in Tampa. The Maryland Democrat blamed GOP-led tax cuts and the wars overseas for exploding the size of the national debt which Obama inherited.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., endorses President Obama's plan to reduce the national deficit, while criticizing Mitt Romney's economic policies.

Van Hollen, who is playing Ryan in debate preparations with Vice President Joe Biden, added: “Congressman Ryan, America is literally in your debt.”

And AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka – one of several leaders in organized labor featured this evening – tried to portray Romney as out-of-touch, saying, “Mitt Romney doesn’t know a thing about hard work or responsibility.”

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Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., to officially nominate President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as the party's candidates for the 2012 presidential election.