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Clinton Passes The Torch

The payload bay is seen through windows on the aft flight deck of space shuttle Discovery, Sunday Dec. 10, 2006. Pictured in the payload bay is the Spacehab module and the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) robotic arm is at left. The shuttle's docking mechanism is visible in the foreground.
AP Photo/NASA
Still wound up from his convention speech the night before, President Clinton joined Al Gore in a Detroit suburb on Tuesday for a symbolic handoff of the Democratic Party mantle.

"I give to you the best man to be the first president of the 21st century - Al Gore," said the current president of the man who hopes to succeed him.

Then, with an embrace designed to launch a presidency, Mr. Clinton stepped to the sidelines as a charged-up Gore took off his jacket, ready to go to work, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports.

"America has done well these past eight years," said Gore. "I say to you today, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!"

"Thank you for the job you have done," Gore told the president, as he urged voters to stick with the Democrats and not "turn back to the failed ways" of the Republicans.

Mr. Clinton said Gore was "at the heart" of every achievement of his administration.

"Are you ready to win this election for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman?" the president asked a cheering crowd in the Monroe town square. "Eight more years!" the crowd responded in unison.

When the ceremony was over, Gore headed west to claim his presidential nomination, and Mr. Clinton flew east, back to the White House for his final five months there.

In the last hundred years, the torch has been passed only three times before, and never with such fanfare. Even Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, turned party power over to his vice president, George Bush, with a simple goodbye.

But for his swan song, Mr. Clinton chose a huge community rally in a critical battleground state. One last chance to play the crowd as the nation’s top Democrat.

“This is a Bill Clinton production," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. "More for the sake of Bill Clinton, of Bill Clinton’s needs if you will, personal needs, than necessarily for Al Gore’s political needs.”

Even as he made a carefully choreographed exit from the stage, Mr. Clinton couldn’t help but make news, heading straight to a McDonald’s, for the first time in years.

“This used to be a regular thing of mine," he said. "I used to do this all the time as a private citizen.”

"Bill Clinton towers over every other political figure in Los Angeles now and nationally," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, "and it's going to be very hard for the vice president to come out of the president's shadows."

The Gore campaign doesn’t want Mr. Clinton to completely go away. They hope to get him out on the road closer to the election, at a time when an outgoing president’s popularity typically soars. They know he can be a powerful campaigner, particularly among blacks and southerners, groups Gore will need if he hopes to win.