CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Bill Clinton was on stage praising President Barack Obama for 48 minutes Wednesday night. Expect to hear a lot more from him before the election is done.
Heading into its final stretch, the Obama campaign is preparing to broadly deploy the former president, taking advantage of his newfound status as Mr. Obama's most polished advocate.
Mr. Clinton will make appearances next week in Ohio and Florida, and is expected to maintain a vigorous campaign schedule through the fall, campaign officials said. He is likely to be used heavily in the Midwest and particularly in communities with white working-class voters, who tend to like Mr. Clinton but resist Mr. Obama.
Mr. Clinton has occasionally been a mixed bag for the White House, voicing policy positions at odds with the president amid speculation about lingering tension ever since Mr. Obama beat Mr. Clinton's wife, Hillary, in the 2008 primary. Both camps say the men have made up, even if they aren't personally close.
The Wednesday speech, however, had Democratic officials gushing Mr. Clinton could be key to an Obama victory. In the prime-time address he argued with passion, detail and Southern charm that Americans are better off than four years ago.
"It was the best 48-minute summation of an entire election that I have ever heard," said Rep. Steve Israel (D., N.Y.).
Republicans also praised Mr. Clinton, but used the moment to argue Mr. Obama hasn't lived up to the standard he set as president. On Thursday, Mitt Romney's campaign released a television ad in which a narrator says, "As the economy gets worse, Barack Obama calls on Bill Clinton to help his failing campaign.…He's a good soldier, helping his party's president." It then shows a clip of Mr. Clinton criticizing Mr. Obama in 2008.
That year, Mr. Clinton headlined 18 rallies, seven fundraisers and delivered a convention speech for Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton's office said. So far this year, he has helped raise $5.5 million for the campaign at four events this year, with the tally from a fifth not yet available. That is in addition to $1 million he helped collect for a super PAC supporting Mr. Obama. He has one major fundraiser left on his schedule.
Obama campaign officials said the Clinton speech, defending the president's record so far, will allow Mr. Obama to instead lay out his vision for a second term.
Mr. Clinton has strong approval ratings overall. His positive rating among working-class voters was 51% in an August Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, with 27% expressing negative views. That compares with 41% positive and 49% negative for Mr. Obama with the same group.
Interviews with voters suggested his speech went over well, though Mr. Clinton isn't universally popular, and some are still rankled by the scandals that marked his presidency.
"I loved Bill Clinton," said Linda Stuart, 65, an undecided independent shopping at the tony Birkdale Village in Huntersville, N.C. "It's like bringing in the big gun." She said she learned a lot about the Obama record from Mr. Clinton's speech.
John Bradford, 37, a Republican just elected to a first town-council term in nearby Cornelius, said he appreciated Mr. Clinton's skills. "They got the best cheerleader they could find and he did a nice job," said Mr. Bradford, who supports Mr. Romney.
But he said he resented an undercurrent of class warfare. "It's almost like he's saying middle-class people are Democrats, but you know there are a lot of Republicans who are also middle-class," he said.