Jubilant Democrats pay homage to Hillary

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Putting aside its public differences on welfare reform, a buoyant and harmonious Democratic party has reopened its love affair with Hillary Clinton and now awaits only her husband's final call to arms today, ahead of what it is increasingly sure will be victory over the Republicans in autumn.

The convention arena stood and cheered her to the rafters on Tuesday as she took the podium to deliver one of the most important speeches of her career. And in her home town, Mrs Clinton did not disappoint. With dignity and conviction, the First Lady often portrayed as resident White House witch transformed herself into crusader for America's families and children, and as well as first promoter of the President's bid for a second term. Not only did it "take a village" to raise children, she insisted, referring to the title of her recent book, "It takes Bill Clinton".

After his three-day Midwestern rail trip, which ended in Indiana, Mr Clinton helicoptered across Lake Michigan into the city last night, brandishing new education and environmental-protection proposals - as well as a $3.5bn (pounds 2.3bn) plan to create jobs for people on welfare, aimed at deflecting criticism from within his party at the welfare-reform bill he signed last week.

In fact, that dissent has already cooled to embers. In characteristically charged flights of oratory before Mrs Clinton spoke, both Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo, liberal lions of conventions past, took strong issue with the President over welfare, with the former New York governor declaring that "harm to children outweighs the political advantage" deriving from the measure.

But on this glitzy stage, and with the party scenting victory in November, no one was going to rock the boat for long.

Hopes here are growing that by demonizing Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives, for all they are worth, the Democrats this autumn can do half that job, by recapturing if not the Senate, at least the House.

Even before his appearance in Chicago, Mr Clinton has been re-extending his lead over his Republican challenger, Bob Dole - to 15 per cent, according to an ABC-TV poll.

Compassion, family and above all unity have been the Democrats' watchwords this week. Messrs Cuomo and Jackson have had differences with Mr Clinton that long predate welfare reform, but here both men praised him to the skies, with Mr Jackson hailing him as a bulwark against a "right-wing assault on the elderly, our students and civil rights".

The civil-rights leader and comrade-in-arms of Martin Luther King even took an unscripted jab at his fellow black, Colin Powell, the great American hero displayed so prominently at the Republican convention earlier this month. His reassuring moderation was no more than a front for Mr Gingrich and Pat Buchanan: "All the rights that made General Powell possible are under assault for the next generation," Mr Jackson warned, to a thunderous standing ovation.

Ultimately though, it was Mrs Clinton's evening, a piece of image remaking that she carried off to perfection. No matter that in Washington, new Whitewater documents were released just before she spoke here, casting fresh doubt on her conduct in the aftermath of the 1993 suicide of Vince Foster.

As a sea of "Welcome Home Hillary" banners waved, the First Lady spoke of the joys of bringing up her own daughter, Chelsea, and pleaded for more help for families and children. Introduced by Tipper Gore, the Vice- President's wife, as a woman "subjected to the most unimaginable incivility", she did not once refer to the ceaseless Republican allegations over her role in Whitewater and her supposedly imperious behaviour at the White House.

For an instant, the clock went back to the start of her husband's administration, as she called anew for health-insurance cover for all, despite the failure in Congress two years ago of the unwieldy reform plan which she largely created.