Did Bill Clinton's convention speech boost Obama — or upstage him?

The former president shone so bright on Wednesday night that he might unintentionally dim President Obama's headline speech on Thursday

President Barack Obama joins former President Bill Clinton onstage after the 43rd president's address at the DNC on Wednesday night. On Thursday, Obama will take the stage to deliver a speech
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, former President Bill Clinton reminded Democrats why they love him — and Republicans why they used to hate him — with a rousing endorsement of President Obama, a detailed defense of his policies, and a point-by-point refutation of all the attacks lobbed at last week's Republican National Convention. "In Tampa," the 43rd president said, "the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in." (Watch video of the speech below.) Whether or not you agree with Clinton's policies, or his critiques, you have to appreciate that on Wednesday night, "you were watching a master at work," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. "Clinton was at the top of his game," agrees Ana Navarro at CNN, but while he made a strong case for Obama's re-election, he also created a problem for the incumbent: Obama "now needs to top Clinton's speech, and Bill set the bar quite high." Did Clinton's endorsement help sell Obama to skeptical swing voters, or did he manage to upstage the president he's trying to help?

Clinton set up Obama beautifully: The former president "defined the race better than Obama is capable of" — at least partly because he can afford to wield a rhetorical shiv, says Ron Fournier at National Journal. Clinton's "folksy yet brutally partisan" speech was as much about cheerfully dismembering Mitt Romney as it was talking up Obama, and that "cleared a path for Obama to be forward-looking and aspirational" on Thursday. Now that Clinton has done the "dirty work" with gusto and grace, Obama is free to sell an optimistic vision for the future.

"Clinton does Obama's dirty work"

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Actually, Clinton's speech could damage Obama: Clinton's "sales pitch for Obama's second term" would have been more effective if it had been 20 minutes shorter, and more about Obama, says Rick Henderson at Carolina Journal. Instead, Clinton spent "too much time defending his own record," and doing it so wistfully that persuadable voters may now "remember his two terms too fondly" for Obama's good. Also, Clinton's amazing way with words may easily "upstage whatever Obama has in store." The president is no slouch, but it's hard to see how he'll "surpass his predecessor."

"Clinton delivered, and delivered, and delivered ..."

Who cares if Clinton outshone Obama? Clinton clearly owned Obama's convention on Wednesday night, says Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. But Team Obama knew he would when they gave him such prominent billing. Clinton can speak to voters who Obama needs but has turned off, and the ex-president is "a far more popular figure" than our current leader. What matters to Obama is that Clinton "bestowed his blessing on the president unambiguously." And if Clinton convinced voters that his frenemy deserves a second term, why would Team Obama mind that he made that case "more cogently than Obama has made it"?

"Obama willing to stand in Bill Clinton's shadow — for a night"

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