DNC Won't Vet Clinton's Speech Until Last Minute

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 4 2012 9:24 AM

Just How Worried Are Democrats About Bill Clinton's Unvetted Speech?

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President Barack Obama embraces former President Bill Clinton during a campign event in New York on June 4, 2012

Photograph by Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Bill Clinton won't take the stage in Charlotte, N.C. until tomorrow night, but he is already in the spotlight as the Democratic National Convention gets ready to open later today.

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The overarching reason for all the attention? The somewhat straightforward risk-reward equation at play for President Obama.

On one hand, Clinton is Obama's highest-profile surrogate and is best-suited to deliver the forceful rebuttal of Mitt Romney's attacks that the Obama camp needs heading into the fall. On the other, Clinton has proved more than capable of departing from the official company line when the mood strikes him, as he did earlier this year when he offered what sounded a whole lot like a glowing endorsement of Romney's "stellar" business career.

No one expects the former president to ask for an empty chair to bring with him as he walks on to the DNC stage tomorrow night, but his prime-time speech nonetheless represents the largest unknown for the Obama campaign at what is certain to be a carefully-scripted convention.

Democratic officials have sent somewhat mixed messages about their level of concern about whether Bill will be on his best behavior. A sampling:

"Clinton, who was nearly booed off the stage during a rambling keynote at the 1988 convention, is working on the draft himself, in his chaotic longhand scrawl. The Obama team has been gently suggesting talking points — namely the bonds of competence that span the two Democrats over the Bush administration’s chasm of ineptitude.
"Clinton is not even expected to submit a draft to his designated contact on the Obama campaign, senior campaign strategist David Axelrod, until shortly before showtime, several Democrats tell POLITICO."
"Former President Bill Clinton is slated to give what could be the most important speech of the Democratic National Convention in two days—but nobody here knows what's he's going to say.
"Clinton is the only major speaker yet to submit his address to the typically painstaking vetting and rewriting that typically accompanies major convention addresses, provoking a mild and growing dose of nerves among senior Democrats, a Democratic official told BuzzFeed Monday."
"Clinton has not submitted his Democratic National Convention speech to the Obama campaign for 'vetting' yet, but a senior campaign official told CBS News Monday that the campaign isn't concerned about it.
"'He will get his speech done when he wants to get his speech done. We're not worried one bit,' the campaign official said."

(The Washington Post, meanwhile, gives the issue only passing mention in its lengthy profile of the Obama-Clinton relationship.)

Overall, it's difficult to get a good read on whether this is legit worry coming from the Obama camp, or merely the initial sources voicing the obvious jitters that accompany a major moment like this one.