If past is a prologue, Clinton will be sweating the details of tonight's speech, scribbling and scratching. As it was in 2008, this is a moment of enormous opportunity and risk.
Risk: Clinton has a history of self-indulgence that he kept in check in the '08 address. Whose presidency will he tout this week — his or Obama's?
Risk: Clinton might be an unintended reminder that Obama didn't live up to his '08 promise. Although the incumbent will claim credit for averting an economic crisis in 2009, millions of Americans are still without work, over-mortgaged and feeling that the country is on the wrong track.
Opportunity: As he showed in '08, Clinton knows how to go negative without turning off politics-averse swing voters, a rare gift. He can do Obama's dirty work on GOP nominee Mitt Romney. "I don't think he needs to gild the lily. I don't think he needs to put spin on the ball," Obama adviser David Axelrod said. "All he needs to do is [give] the facts."
Opportunity: His address on Wednesday night could be "the perfect setup for an Obama spike," said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. Using almost precisely the same language, several Democrats — including Obama campaign officials — said on Sunday that nobody frames an election better than Bill Clinton. Is that a backhanded way of raising doubts about Obama's ability?
"I don't think so," Axelrod said. "The truth is, there is nobody on the planet better [than Clinton] at debunking the Republican fiscal record."
Not even Obama.
The best evidence of Clinton's ability is the 2008 address he hammered out during the party in his suite. This passage in particular: "They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt; from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million; from increasing working families' incomes to nearly $7,500 a year to a decline of more than $2,000 a year; from almost 8 million Americans lifted out of poverty to more than 5.5 million driven into poverty; and millions more losing their health insurance."
"Now," Clinton continued, "in spite of all this evidence, their candidate is actually promising more of the same. Think about it: more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy; more Band-Aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families, and increase the number of uninsured."
Axelrod laughed knowingly when Clinton's words were read back to him. "He could recite that passage you just read to me again, and it would still be fresh," he said.
Clinton "took on the same theories and dogmas" that Obama faces, Axelrod said.
Advisers working on the speech say the former president is voraciously gathering economic data to contrast where the country is now — with slow but consistent job growth — to where it was when Obama took office. Clinton has discussed the speech in broad terms with Axelrod and other Obama associates. But will the campaign review it before it's delivered?