DENVER — Following his wife's lead, former President Bill Clinton offered a full-throated endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama Wednesday night, saying he is "ready to be president of the United States."
"Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama," Clinton said to a boisterous Democratic National Convention and a prime-time television audience. "That makes two of us. Actually, that makes 18 million of us — because, like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November."
Clinton's speech was designed to end talk of bad blood between the ex-president and Obama following Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes.
His remarks were as much about preserving his presidential legacy as they were trying to smooth Obama's general election path among hard-core supporters of his wife, the junior senator from New York.
"This is his legacy, both Hillary Clinton as a plausible candidate for president, and Barack Obama," Stanley Greenberg, a former Clinton pollster said before the ex-president's speech.
Clinton has appeared cool and distant toward Obama since Hillary Clinton dropped out of the race, barely communicating with him and offering lukewarm comments about him when asked.
Many political analysts and voters — particularly African-Americans — believe that the man some called "the first black president" tarnished his legacy by appearing to inject race into the primary contests.
He raised African-American ire when he compared Obama's victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary to Jesse Jackson's wins there in 1984 and 1988. Campaigning for his wife on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, he called Obama's opposition to the Iraq war a "fairy tale."
Clinton adamantly denied that he played the race card during the campaign, calling the charge a "myth and a mugging," but his comments and conduct on the campaign trail soured many voters and caused bad blood between the Clinton and Obama camps.
Wednesday night, Clinton praised his wife's campaign and said the bruising Democratic primaries "tested and strengthened" Obama for the general election ahead.
"Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I've done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job," Clinton said. "He has the remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful president needs."
Earlier in the day, some people close to the Clintons said the former president and Obama were aggressively working to mend their relationship and predicted that Clinton would give Obama his hearty support.
"This is going to be a much warmer thing than you had with (Ronald) Reagan and (Gerald) Ford, it's going to be a much warmer thing than you had than (Edward) Kennedy and (Jimmy) Carter, (Bill) Clinton and (Al) Gore," said James Carville, one of the architects of Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. "There are a lot of positive things that are happening."
In his speech, Clinton took aim at President Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, saying they have presided over a declining U.S. economy and a loss of America's standing in the world.
"These challenges cry out for American ideas and American innovation," Clinton said. "When Barack Obama unleashes them, America will save lives, win new allies, open new markets and create new jobs for our people."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2008