The last time Bill Clinton talked about Barack Obama in the Carolinas, it wasn't exactly in flattering terms.
Campaigning for his wife before the 2008 South Carolina primary, the former president questioned his qualifications and raised the hackles of Obama supporters. One S.C. lawmaker accused him of "character assassination."
State party chairman Dick Harpootlian even compared him to Lee Atwater, the late S.C. Republican operative synonymous with negative politics. Now Democrats are applauding Clinton's selection to nominate Obama in a prime time speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
"Look, primaries are bruising battles," Harpootlian said Monday. "(Clinton) is the poster boy for staying the course with Barack Obama."
Convention organizers Monday formally announced that Clinton would nominate Obama on Wednesday night, Sept. 5. That bumps Vice President Joe Biden to a Thursday night speech at Bank of America Stadium, just before the president's acceptance speech.
Democrats hope Clinton can rally the party's base and sway independents for Obama by evoking the memory of an administration that presided over a period of prosperity and balanced budgets.
"The decision to use Bill Clinton is a slam dunk," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. "I consider it a gift to the campaign and the country to have Bill Clinton articulate President Obama's record of accomplishment."
Republicans have a different spin.
"After four years of trillion-dollar deficits and anemic economic growth, it's clear President Obama would love to run on President Clinton's record in office," said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Republican Mitt Romney. "Americans deserve a president willing to run on his own record, not the record he wishes he had."
Democrats will cross their fingers that Clinton sticks to his script.
Earlier this year he ruffled feathers when he said Romney had a "sterling" record at Bain Capital, even as the Obama campaign has tried to tear that record apart. But, when he stays on message, few speakers are as effective.
"President Clinton is a tremendously effective communicator and might well be able to deliver the Obama message better than Obama can," said political analyst Charlie Cook of Washington.
For their part, Democrats seem willing to move beyond the 2008 primary, when Clinton was accused of injecting race into the campaign, even dismissing Obama's probable win by comparing him with Jesse Jackson, who won the state twice in Democratic primaries. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a S.C. Democrat and a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, urged Clinton to "chill a little bit."
But, said Duke University political scientist Kerry Haynie, who teaches African and African American studies, "bygones are bygones."
"Most people understood that this was a battle," Haynie said, "and they also remember some of the issues that President Clinton supported that black folks care about."
Even Clyburn welcomed Clinton's convention role.
"Bill Clinton's two terms in office produced over 22 million new jobs and a growing middle class, and he knows how dangerous it would be to our country to return to the failed policies of the past," Clyburn said in a statement.
Even though the former president will be in town Wednesday, Stephanie Ansaldo hopes he can come two days earlier.
The president of the Charlotte-based Echo Foundation had invited him to an award gala on Monday, Sept. 3 at the Knight Theater, followed by a nearby reception saluting a photo exhibit of Bobby Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.
"My hunch is that it's unlikely," Ansaldo said of a presidential appearance. "(But) at Echo, our hope is infinite. We ask and ask and do everything we can to make our dreams come true."
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