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Inside Politics

Clintons rally party faithful at convention

'They're the rock stars'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton enjoy the greeting at the Democratic National Convention.
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Former President Clinton lauds Sen. Kerry for his bravery.

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, the pre-eminent power couple in Democratic circles, took center stage Monday night at the Democratic National Convention as they appealed to the party faithful to rally behind John Kerry.

"Tonight I come to you as a citizen, returning to you in a role I've played most of my life. I join you here in Boston as a foot soldier in the fight for our future, as we nominate a true New England patriot for president," Bill Clinton said.

"Now this state [that] gave us John Adams and John Kennedy has now given us John Kerry, a good man, a great senator, a visionary leader."

The former two-term president and former first lady-turned-U.S. senator were part of a lineup of Democratic luminaries -- including former President Carter and former Vice President Al Gore -- that kicked off the four-day convention.

Enthusiastic welcome

The crowd cheered each of the speakers, but it was the Clinton duo who ignited the most passion among the thousands of delegates and alternates packed inside the FleetCenter.

They rose in standing ovations to greet each Clinton. Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" -- popular during the Clinton campaigns -- blared as the former president took to the stage.

Clinton's speech was interrupted nine times by standing ovations, and his words could not be heard at first because of the crowd's cheers.

"They're the rock stars," Arizona delegate Judy Kennedy said before the Clintons took the stage.

Ann White from Tampa, Florida, agreed. Asked how much the Clintons mean to her, the teacher and school administrator introduced her 11-year-old son. His name? William Clinton White.

The former president was not tapped to tout his own legacy, but to help lay out the case to American voters that another Democrat belongs in the White House.

The nation's 42nd president, 57, was introduced by his wife, the junior senator from New York, who was not on the initial roster of convention speakers.

But Sen. Clinton -- who polls show remains a polarizing figure in politics -- was added after some Democrats objected to her absence.

The former president's appearance at the convention was in contrast to 2000 when Gore, the Democratic nominee, kept his distance from his former boss, whose second term was marred by impeachment.

Clinton gave a resounding endorsement of Kerry in his speech. (Read transcript)

While criticism of the current Republican administration is a common refrain among Democrats, convention organizers tried to set the tone for a positive four days.

Clinton, however, offered harsh comparisons between the two major political parties, casting the GOP administration in an unflattering light on issues such as health care, education and tax policy.

"Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas on what choices we should make, rooted in fundamentally different views of how we should meet our common challenges at home and how we should play our role in the world," Clinton said.

"We Democrats want to build a world and an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities. ... On the other hand, Republicans in Washington believe that America should be run by the right people, their people."

Delegate Dave Thomas of Colorado -- who is running for Congress -- said he liked Clinton's focus on the future.

"I thought it was an excellent tone," Thomas said.

Sen. Clinton, 56, made no mention of Republicans in her remarks. Instead, she kept the focus on Kerry, plugging him as "the next great Democratic president."

"He knows very well that you have to lead the world, not alienate it," she said. "He will lower the deficit, not raise it. He will create good jobs, not lose them. And he will solve a health care crisis for our people, not ignore it. I know a thing or two about health care. And the problems have only gotten worse in the past four years."

Wildly popular with many core Democrats, Sen. Clinton's own political aspirations have been the subject of much speculation over the past year.

She long ago ruled herself out of this race, but whether she desires a Clinton presidency of her own remains a favorite topic of speculation among many Democrats.

While the Clintons clearly were the star attractions Monday night, several delegates said there was little chance the couple would dominate the convention -- or that Kerry would suffer by comparison.

"Obviously, a lot of people here care about Bill Clinton," said Tom Kitchen, a delegate from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. "But this is John Kerry's convention, and we're here for John Kerry."

CNN's Wayne Drash contributed to this report.


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