DENVER | For the third time since leaving office, former President Bill Clinton tried Wednesday to turn the reins of the Democratic Party over to a successor. This time, maybe it will stick.
“I love this, and I thank you, but we have important work to do tonight. I’m here, first, to support Barack Obama and, second, I’m here to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden,” Mr. Clinton told the crowd in a 23-minute speech Wednesday night in which he repeatedly praised the ticket that will carry forward the Democratic banner.
With just a brief mention of the 18 million votes that his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, won during the Democratic primaries, Mr. Clinton mostly played the role of good party soldier, telling those voters: “I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama.”
He also directly addressed the issue on which his wife had hit Mr. Obama hardest during the primaries and on which Republicans have pounded all summer: Mr. Obama’s experience.
“Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I have done since in America and across the globe has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job,” he said.
Mr. Clinton milked the crowd’s applause for a full minute before taking the podium, and even after finally taking his place he had to wait minutes more for the crowd to settle down.
“We’ve got to get on with the show here, come on,” he pleaded, only stirring more applause. “Please stop, sit down, sit down.”
Hours earlier Mrs. Clinton, who had taken Mr. Obama down to the wire in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, took to the convention floor to suspend the roll-call vote she had fought for and to have the convention declare Mr. Obama the winner by acclamation. The delegates promptly did exactly that.
If the Clintons managed to steal the show in defeat, it’s only been par for the course this week. With Mr. Obama out of town, as is traditional for the prospective nominee, Denver has been left to the Clintons, and they rose to the moment.
Mr. Clinton, who preceded Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech, gave the pundits something to chew on earlier this week after he made remarks many thought were a veiled comment that Mr. Obama shouldn’t win the election.
“Candidate X agrees with you on everything, but you don’t think that person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues, but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver. For whom will you vote?” Mr. Clinton told a group of foreign leaders.
“You may actually see this delivery issue become a serious issue in Democratic debates because it is so hard to figure out how to turn good intentions into real changes in the lives of the people we represent,” he said, though he also said “this has nothing to do with what’s going on now.”
With Mr. Obama gone most of the week, conversation turned to the former first family and its performance during the primary fight.
“The Clinton legacy is battered and bruised, but intact,” said Morris Reid, a Democratic communications strategist and former Clinton administration official. “Here is a man who spent his whole life doing the right thing, particularly on race relations. … He’d never seen a candidate like Barack Obama, and I think he was caught a little bit off-guard.”
Mr. Obama called the former president to praise his wife after her speech Tuesday night, and he has carved out the best convention speaking slot Mr. Clinton has had since his presidency. In both 2000 and 2004, he spoke on Monday night, the traditional time slot to shoe-horn in ex-presidents, as most candidates are eager to get on with their vision of the future.
As much as Democrats fret over Mr. Clinton’s unwillingness to leave the stage, it’s also true that no previous candidate has had the skills to push him off, nor was the Democratic Party eager to see him go.
Neither Al Gore in 2000 nor John Kerry in 2004 were proper heirs at the time to the Clinton legacy. But Mr. Obama is the crown prince to that legacy and more, Mr. Reid said.
“The party has finally found a worthy heir,” Mr. Reid said. “Maybe [Clinton’s] dream was to pass it on to his wife, but he has a worthy successor in Barack Obama. … This guy is ready.”