Charlotte, N.C. — Bill Clinton nominated President Obama for a second term Wednesday night, saying the man who thwarted his wife’s presidential ambitions in 2008 is now the best hope to unify a fractious America.
After nearly 50 speeches over five hours, each adding a piece to a damning portrait of Mitt Romney and the Republican agenda, it was left to the 66-year-old former president to sharpen the focus of the Democratic National Convention.
“My fellow Americans, you have to decide what kind of a country you want to live in,” said Clinton, looking out on an arena that filled beyond capacity, prompting the fire marshal to lock out late-arriving delegates.
The long evening ended with Obama coming on stage as Clinton basked in the convention applause. The two men embraced, then separated and faced each other with broad smiles.
“We are fired up! We are fired up!” the delegates chanted.
Standing in a circle of illuminated white stars, his familiar face filling a video screen that dwarfed him, Clinton nudged the debate beyond the personal narratives of Obama and Romney to a simple question of national values.
“If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket,” Clinton said. “If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this- together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Clinton said Obama reached out to Republicans, but the opposition party set a priority of trying to cripple his presidency.
“The Senate Republican leader in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election their number one priority was not to put Americans back to work, but to put President Obama out of work,” he said.
Obama, on the other hand, chose an opponent, Joe Biden, as his running mate, he said.
“He even appointed Hillary,” Clinton said, pausing for the applause he knew would come at the mention of his wife, Obama’s secretary of state.
Clinton forcefully defended Obama on the economy, saying he inherited “a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, well-balanced economy.
“President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did,” Clinton said. “Listen to me now, no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.”
The convention delegates roared in approval.
In a speech that ambled past 11 p.m., Clinton reviewed every major GOP attack line, from Medicare to a claim that Obama wants to weaken the work requirement in the welfare reforms Clinton passed with a Republican Congress.
“It’s a real doozy,” Clinton said. “It’s just not true.”
Clinton said the basis of the Republican advertising was clear, noting that a GOP operative asserted the Romney campaign would not be dictated by fact checkers.
Clinton smiled and raised his hand for silence, as the delegates began to laugh.
“Finally, I can say, ‘That is the truth,’” Clinton said.
It was Clinton’s job to lift an evening that was more an indictment — one seemingly issued by every constituent element of the Democratic coalition — of Romney than a testimonial to Obama.
Delegates heard from men and women who say they lost their jobs after their companies were purchased by Romney’s Bain Capital.
They heard from three governors and 15 members of Congress, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and U.S. Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut.
Malloy talked about the GOP’s opposition to abortion, even for women who become pregnant by rape.
“That’s in their platform. That’s what they believe,” said Malloy, who told the convention his wife once ran a rape-crisis center. “That’s why there are three simple reasons for anyone to support Barack Obama over Mitt Romney: Your sister, your mother and your daughter.”
Larson talked about growing up in blue-collar East Hartford, where his father worked at Pratt & Whitney, and his family benefited from a social compact that promised good medical care and decent pensions.
“It’s what FDR called the warm courage of national unity,” Larson said.
Latinos and African Americans came to the podium. So did the women of the Senate, the presidents of labor unions and Planned Parenthood, and Barney Frank, the openly gay congressman from Massachusetts who is retiring this year.
Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor and consumer advocate who is trying to recapture the Senate seat lost after the death of Edward M. Kennedy, was given a share of the prime-time hour of 10 p.m.
She quoted Kennedy’s last address to a national convention, when he asserted that Americans have never lost a belief that they are called “to a better country and a newer world.”
Americans are called today to restore opportunity for every American, she said.
“So let me ask you, let me ask you: America, are you ready to answer this call? Are you ready to fight for good jobs and a strong middle class? Are you ready to work for a level playing field?” she said.
The delegates shouted, “Yes.”
“Joe Biden is ready. Barack Obama is ready. I’m ready,” she said.
“You’re ready. America’s ready.”