Image: Former President Bill Clinton
Joe Burbank  /  AP
Former president Bill Clinton responds to cheering supporters as he takes the stage in Orlando, Fla. to campaign for Sen. Barack Obama.
updated 10/1/2008 4:21:51 PM ET 2008-10-01T20:21:51

Former President Clinton set aside his cool relationship with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Wednesday to condemn Republican economic policies as well as endorse his wife's ex-rival.

For his first campaign trail appearance on Obama's behalf, Clinton appeared in the swing state of Florida, whose 27 electoral votes are seen as central to Republican John McCain's hopes for victory. George W. Bush won the state in 2000, after a disputed recount, and again in 2004. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Obama with a 51-43 percent lead over McCain among likely voters.

Clinton talked at length about the nation's problems, particularly the financial mess Congress is handling, and told a crowd of several thousand that Obama would be better at finding answers.

"Here's why you ought to be for Barack Obama," Clinton said. "He's got better answers. Better answers for the economy, for energy, for health care, for education. He knows what it will take to get this country back on track."

Clinton didn't speak Obama's name until five minutes into his 22-minute speech and mentioned wife Hillary Rodham Clinton's voter outreach group when explaining why he came to Florida: "Hillary sent me."

At one point Clinton heaped higher praise on Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, than on Obama or his own wife, saying that no one in the Senate understands economic and security challenges like Biden. Obama, Hillary Clinton and McCain are also in the Senate.

Clinton did praise Obama for his approach to the country's economic crisis, saying that Obama had asked him and other economic advisers for help.

"You know what he said? 'Show me what the problem is and how to fix it and don't bother me with the politics. Let's do the right thing,'" Clinton said.

"There's a lot of pessimism and doom and gloom and ... people are waking up with their guts in a knot, worried about the economy," Clinton said. "America has a choice — we can worry about these things, or we can do something about it."

Clinton gave a similar speech in Fort Pierce later Wednesday before a crowd of several thousand at an outdoor waterfront event in sweltering heat where several people fainted.

"Someone just fainted, and I know its cause of the heat because at my age I know I don't have that much juice anymore," he said to laughter.

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At both events, Clinton mentioned neither McCain nor his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sara Palin, by name, but he did say Obama's "got a better vice presidential partner."

Clinton has been criticized by some in his party for refusing to attack McCain. "You don't have to say one bad word about Sen. Obama's opponent," he told the crowd, "you just have to tell them the truth."

Yet Clinton's kind words for McCain — he said recently that he admires the Arizona Republican even though he disagrees with him and has called McCain "a great man" without applying those words to Obama — fuel perceptions that the former president is supporting Obama only grudgingly because an Obama victory would thwart Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions in 2012.

Not forgotten by those who seek to renew friction between Obama and Clinton is the former president's observation that Obama won the South Carolina primary as did previous black candidates — raising the charge that Clinton sought to diminish Obama's standing. At another point, Clinton bitterly rejected Obama's claim to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning as "a fairy tale."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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