Clinton to Take Stage in Praise of Obama's Candidacy

By Jonathan Weisman and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 26, 2008; 11:40 AM

DENVER Aug. 26 -- A day after opening their national convention with tributes from Sen. Barack Obama's wife and one of his strongest supporters, Democrats Tuesday turned to their presidential candidate's former leading rival in an effort to unite the party for its fall battle against Republican Sen. John McCain.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the former presidential front-runner who was beaten out by Obama in this year's primaries and caucuses, takes center stage Tuesday night for a prime-time convention speech that analysts expect to feature strong attacks on McCain and the Bush administration.

With some delegates looking for more of a "red-meat" approach after Monday night's family-themed speech by Michelle Obama and an emotional address by an ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the task of sharpening the Democrats' attacks on the GOP appeared to be falling to Clinton, especially after McCain (Ariz.) began using Clinton's own words in political ads criticizing Obama.

The night's keynote speaker, former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner, has indicated that he does not plan to give a red-meat speech attacking the Republicans. Warner, who served as governor from 2002 to 2006, is running for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. John W. Warner in a state that has not voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964 but that is now considered a swing state.

Clinton has been publicly urging supporters to throw their full support to Obama and has denounced McCain's attempts to drive a wedge between them. That Republican effort continued with a new McCain ad that uses Clinton's words about her rival during her primary campaign in an ad about a 3 a.m. phone call: "I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002." A narrator in the McCain ad continues: "Hillary's right. John McCain for president."

In her speech Tuesday night, Clinton also faces the task of convincing supporters of "the intensity, the strength of her commitment" to Obama, according to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, himself a former Democratic presidential contender. In his own convention speech Wednesday, he told CNN's "American Morning" program, he plans to get tough on the Republicans over foreign policy and other matters.

"Now, these next three days, I think you're going to see an intensity of attack," Richardson said. "But, you know, you don't want to get negative, choppy, every single day. And I think what we're seeing today here is a Democratic Party that's positive, that's unified, that wants to heal, that wants to bring bipartisanship. And, you know, I'll talk about that too."

Another speaker addressing the convention Tuesday night, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), also signaled a harsher tone toward McCain and the GOP. "If the Republicans are good at anything . . . they are experts at fear and smear, divide and conquer," he told National Public Radio. "What we have to do, though, I think, is rebut those charges, but also to point out the real McCain record." He said McCain "wants to privatize Social Security" and that Obama "understands a lot more about how people have to struggle economically than John McCain will ever in his whole lifetime."

Addressing the convention Monday night, Michelle Obama delivered a tribute to her husband and a call to the country to listen "to our hopes instead of our fears," and "to stop doubting and to start dreaming."

Seeking to ground the senator from Illinois in the experience of America's working class while recapturing the lofty ideals that propelled him toward his party's presidential nomination, Michelle Obama's family-themed speech was the climax of a dramatic opening day for a political party confident of its chances of capturing the White House but still struggling to lay aside its own divisions. A weak economy and a war in Iraq now in its sixth year have offered Democrats and their young candidate an ideal political environment in which to push for widespread change. But Obama has yet to close the deal with the electorate, or even some of the Democrats who backed Clinton.

But once the curtain went up on a raucous Pepsi Center Monday night, the party appeared poised to come together. The delegates cheered every mention of Clinton and gave the same treatment to Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), and the party's 2004 nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). Kennedy, who has a brain tumor but appeared spry in a surprise appearance, offered a poignant moment of reflection on the last time a youthful Democrat won the White House. To thunderous applause, he promised to be present in the Senate in January to greet a new Democratic president.

"The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on," he said, echoing his speech from the 1980 Democratic convention, in which he was denied the party's nomination.

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