Clinton works the down-home charm that won the White House – and the packed hall loves it

  • @guyadams

In the cold light of day, the verdict was just as universally stellar as it had been the night before, when they were packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, beneath the red, white and blue floodlights of that raucous indoor arena.

"Magnificent," chorused one table of delegates eating breakfast at the Convention Centre yesterday. "Extraordinary," declared another. "At my age, I've seen quite a few political speeches," cooed Missy Jefferson, a 75-year-old activist from east Texas. "And I'm telling you, Bill Clinton did last night was the best I've ever seen."

While Republicans fall in line, Democrats are traditionally said to fall in love. And the flames of a romance which began when the honey-voiced "comeback kid" charmed his way into the White House almost 20 years ago are still burning as fiercely as ever.

Mr Clinton put on a remarkable show during the roughly 45 minutes he spent nominating Barack Obama as his party's candidate for US President. Warm and folksy, he offered a ringing endorsement of the incumbent, casting him as a worthy inheritor of his mantle.

He dubbed Obama "a man cool on the outside, but burning for America on the inside" who had "inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, and began the long hard road to recovery". And he billed him as the only man capable of leading an old-fashioned Democratic revival, built on the middle class.

"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: 'We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in'," Mr Clinton announced, to pantomime giggles. "But I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better."

In the old days, Mr Clinton was sometimes called the "explainer in chief". And while he may not attain Mr Obama's lofty oratory, he is surely a more gifted advocate. "He laid things out in a way everyone can understand," said Wilma Baker, from Virginia. "Young people, old people, rich and poor. That's his gift."

The speech was twice its scheduled length and occasionally untidy, but Mr Clinton's personal touch is perhaps his greatest asset. He called the crowd "folks," described Republican politicking as "a real doozy," and dropped such rhetorical gems as "I'm fixing to tell ya!" Lean, tanned, and with a glint in his eye, his approach was typified by his critique of trickle-down economics. "I'm just a country boy from Arkansas," he said, calling it a place where people "still think two plus two equals four".

The meat, so to speak, was a detailed, 30-minute dissection of the Republican platform. It offered forensic support for Obamacare, and, often citing cumbersome specifics, attacked the Romney campaign's economic platform of "tax cuts for millionaires." In different hands, this might have faltered. But Mr Clinton still knows how to walk the common man through a tangle of complex policy.

"Bubba broke it down, bit by bit, into all the details," said Gary Ramy, from nearby Wilkesboro. "When he talks to an audience, it feels like he's talking directly to me or you."

Mr Clinton and Obama's relationship has not always run smooth. But at the close, they shared a "man hug" which seemed genuinely warm. The only problem, for the younger of the two Presidents, who spent yesterday preparing his own big speech, was that he had a hard act to follow.