Bill Clinton Speech May Be Shot In The Arm For Dems

Correction Sept. 12, 2012

We misidentify a speaker as Janet Ganong Cudahy of Wisconsin. She is Janet Ganong; Cudahy is her hometown.

Former President Bill Clinton is set to speak Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Delegates and officials talk about what they hope to hear from Clinton and what his role is in the party.

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NPR's Debbie Elliott was on the convention floor last night, and she reports the sentiment there seems to be that a speech from the Comeback Kid will be a shot in the arm for Democrats.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: To get a preview of what delegates are anticipating from President Clinton tonight, I climbed high above the convention floor to find his home state delegation.

DEBBIE WILLHITE: Hello. How are you? Welcome to Arkansas.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

Debbie Willhite of Little Rock welcomes me with a custom button that describes the kind of voter you'll find here.

WILLHITE: It says flag-waving, God-fearing, gun-owning, granny-loving Arkansas Democrat.

ELLIOTT: She's not surprised President Obama asked Mr. Clinton to play a key role tonight.

WILLHITE: I think it was a brilliant decision by the Obama campaign.

ELLIOTT: Why?

WILLHITE: Because he was president during the best economy the nation's had, and he believes in what Barack Obama's doing to bring it back after the Republicans demolished it.

ELLIOTT: Willhite is a political consultant who has watched Clinton rise through Arkansas politics onto the national stage. His strength tonight, she thinks, will be an ability to connect with middle-of-the-road voters.

WILLHITE: I think that Bill Clinton speaks to a part of the country in a voice that they hear and that can't hurt.

ELLIOTT: Her fellow Arkansas delegate, Diane Bryant, says the Obama campaign needs a fighter.

DIANE BRYANT: I mean, you know he's brilliant, you know he's an articulate speaker, and he has charisma, but he has grit. I mean, the man's 66 years old, but he's still in there fighting for the United States.

ELLIOTT: Along with that grit comes a penchant for straying off message at times. There was his way too long keynote address at the 1988 convention and a few notable digs at then-candidate Barack Obama. But Florida delegate Lizzy Jenkins isn't too concerned.

LIZZY JENKINS: Because he knows when to fold and he knows when to hold. And it's time to hold. We need to work together and that's what Democrats do well, come together when we need to.

ELLIOTT: Plenty of the delegates in Charlotte were in Denver four years ago where bitterness remained after the at times ugly primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama. Cecilia Flores of Denver was a volunteer at the 2008 convention.

CECILIA FLORES: It still was tense, I think, you know? And I still have friends who told me when I left, well, vote for Hillary. And I said, let it go, let it go, let it go.

ELLIOTT: But she's not expecting even a hint of that bitterness from President Clinton tonight. Neither is Janet Ganong Cudahy of Wisconsin. She was a Hillary Clinton supporter four years ago and says that drama is over. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: She is Janet Ganong; Cudahy is her hometown.]

JANET GANONG: I think that is a lot of people hoping, maybe kind of like on a hockey field, you hope to see a slug-out. No, we are united. We want Barack Obama for four more years.

ELLIOTT: But some here are thinking beyond the next four years. Indiana delegate Henry Fernandez.

HENRY FERNANDEZ: What I would love is for President Clinton to hint whether or not his wife will run in four years.

ELLIOTT: For now, the campaign hopes the focus remains on President Obama. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charlotte.

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