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Bill and Hill show sparkles at convention Ex-President rallies behind Kerry

Boston, July 27 (Reuters): Former President Bill Clinton may be peddling a book rather than running for office these days but he remains the biggest star in the Democratic Party and could prove vital in Senator John Kerry’s White House bid, delegates said yesterday.

On the first night of the convention where Kerry will be officially nominated to run for the presidency, it was a one-two act of US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband that drew the largest applause.

Both told the party faithful to rally behind Kerry to ensure that President George W. Bush is a one-term leader like his father. And both showed an ease and rapport with the crowd that many feel Kerry lacks.

“Tonight, my friends, I ask you to join me for the next 100 days in telling John Kerry’s stories and promoting his ideas,” Bill Clinton told a raucous hall, calling the US senator from Massachusetts “a visionary leader.”

As he reminded a prime-time television audience of the record economic expansion of the 1990s when jobs were plentiful and the the nation was at peace, delegates said they wanted Kerry to embrace the man critics love to say brought dishonour to the Oval Office by having an affair with an intern.

“Clinton was needed in the last election and the vice-president blew the chance to use his great strengths... it was a mistake,” said New Jersey delegate John Adler.

Former vice-president Al Gore distanced himself from Clinton in the disputed 2000 election, fearful to associate himself too closely with a man dogged by scandal. Delegates warned Kerry not to make the same mistake.

With the electorate still finely balanced, Adler said Kerry should ask Clinton “to go to small towns and cities and rural areas ... to get voters motivated.”

If Kerry does turn to Clinton to help ahead of the November 2 election, the former President is already well placed to do so. Since June, Clinton has drawn large crowds across the nation at book readings and signings of his memoir My Life, which already has more than two million copies in print.

His wife Hillary, mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2008, ruled out her own bid this year and some pundits have suggested she might prefer Kerry to lose in November to pave the way for that run.

Despite his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and his impeachment, dozens of delegates here said the Southern charmer could be vital for Kerry — a senator often accused of being wooden and patrician and someone Republicans say flip-flops on vital issues like the war in Iraq and security at home.

Without Clinton on the stump, she said: “There is a danger that, especially with (independent candidate) Ralph Nader in the equation, that Kerry might lose.”

And true to form, the former two-term President held delegates rapt as he laid out a populist vision for the nation and the reasons why Americans should vote Bush out of office.

“Our friends have to portray us Democrats as simply unacceptable, lacking in strength and values. In other words, they need a divided America,” Clinton said. “But we don't.”

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