By Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 28, 2008
DENVER, Aug. 27 -- Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois completed an improbable and historic journey here Wednesday when he was nominated by acclamation as the Democratic candidate for president, becoming the first African American to lead a major political party into a general-election campaign.
Obama, who just eight years ago attended his first Democratic National Convention and who four years later shot to national prominence with an electrifying keynote address at the gathering in Boston, was given a final symbolic boost Wednesday by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who moved from the convention floor to suspend the roll call of the states and formalize her former rival's nomination by acclamation.
The gesture of conciliation brought to a conclusion the closest and hardest-fought nomination battle Democrats have waged in the modern era of presidential politics, pitting two historic candidacies in a contest that divided the party and left lingering bitter feelings among Clinton loyalists.
But after days of nervous speculation about how the long and often contentious competition would end here in Denver, the nomination-by-acclamation set off a joyous scene on the convention floor, as delegates danced to the strains of "Love Train" and then broke out in chants of "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!"
Hours later, the convention confirmed Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) as the party's vice presidential nominee, and as he finished his acceptance speech, Obama made a surprise visit to the Pepsi Center to praise his running mate; his wife, Michelle; his erstwhile rival Clinton; and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who had delivered a powerful speech on behalf of Obama earlier in the night.
"I think the convention's gone pretty well so far, don't you think?" Obama said. He cited his wife's speech on Monday, and then, referring to Hillary Clinton's speech on Tuesday, said, "If I'm not mistaken, Hillary Clinton rocked the house last night."
In his acceptance speech, Biden, the fiery chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cast himself as a champion of working-class families -- a key target group Obama has struggled to win over -- and laid out a sustained critique of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who will accept the GOP nomination next week.
"I am here for everyone I grew up with in Scranton and Wilmington," he said. "I am here for the cops and firefighters, the teachers and assembly-line workers -- the folks whose lives are the very measure of whether the American dream endures."
Time and again, Biden charged, Obama's judgment on foreign policy issues has been superior to McCain's. On domestic issues, he said, McCain would continue the policies of President Bush rather than embrace changes he said the country desperately needs.
"Again and again, on the most important national security issues of our time, John McCain was wrong and Barack Obama was proven right," Biden argued. "Folks, remember when the world used to trust us? When they looked to us for leadership? With Barack Obama as our president, they'll look to us again, they'll trust us again, and we'll be able to lead again."
In its response to the night's proceedings, McCain's campaign sought to turn Biden's words against Obama.
"Joe Biden is right: We need more than a good soldier. We need a leader with the experience and judgment to serve as commander in chief from Day One," said spokesman Ben Porritt. "That leader is John McCain."
Biden was preceded on the podium by Bill Clinton, whose conduct during the nominating contest prompted considerable criticism from Democrats backing Obama and who has complained in private that he was unfairly attacked.
But the former president, like his wife on Tuesday, delivered a rousing speech that made a strong argument that the election of Obama is critical to the country's future.
Clinton drew a thunderous and sustained welcome from delegates, who cheered and waved American flags and chanted "Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill" as he sought to quiet them. "I am here first to support Barack Obama," he said, setting off another round of applause.
Clinton acknowledged that "in the end, my candidate didn't win" the nomination. But then, citing his wife's speech on Tuesday, he said: "Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama. That makes two of us." That set off a fresh round of applause that grew louder when he added: "Actually, that makes 18 million of us, because, like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November."
Challenging Republican criticism of the new nominee, he said: "Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world. Barack Obama is ready to honor the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States."
Recalling that Republicans had accused him of not being ready when he ran in 1992, Clinton noted that the criticism had not worked then and "won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."
Obama, who began Wednesday in Montana, touched down in Denver just as nominating speeches were getting underway and immediately headed to his hotel downtown to continue working on the acceptance speech he will deliver on Thursday night. He was with his wife; their daughters, Sasha and Malia; and other members of his extended family when he was declared the party's nominee.
The final stages of the nomination battle played out through a series of events on Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning with Hillary Clinton's speech on Tuesday, in which she called Obama "my candidate" and told her supporters that if they believe in the causes she champions, they should now help elect Obama.
On Wednesday, Clinton met with her delegates and, over shouts of "No, no," told them they were free to vote any way they wished. "I'm not telling you what to do," she said to some applause. But she added: "I signed my ballot this morning for Senator Obama."
The roll call of the states, which was the subject of lengthy negotiations between the Obama and Clinton campaigns, began shortly before 4 p.m. Denver time. Clinton wanted her name put in nomination in recognition of her historic candidacy, and many of her delegates were demanding the opportunity to record their support for her.
But early in the roll call it became clear that many of them had already shifted to Obama and that the quadrennial spectacle had been choreographed to produce a party united behind him.
The first conspicuous example of the shift to Obama came when Arkansas, the home state of Bill Clinton and a state she carried overwhelmingly during the primaries, cast most of its 47 votes for him.
Other Clinton states followed suit. New Hampshire, which brought her campaign back to life in January with a surprise victory, cast all its votes for Obama. Then came New Jersey, another state where Clinton trumped Obama in the primaries, which voted unanimously for him.
Two-thirds of the way through the roll call, an elaborately planned series of handoffs began to unfold. New Mexico yielded the floor to Illinois, which had passed on the first go-round. Illinois, Obama's home state, then yielded the floor to New York, Clinton's state.
Suddenly, the cameras zeroed in on Clinton within a throng of people on the convention floor moving toward the stanchion marking the New York delegation. A cheer went up as her image appeared on the big screens in the arena.
Standing next to Gov. David A. Paterson, Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, Clinton did the honors for the man who had denied her dream of becoming the first woman ever nominated to lead a major party. "With the goal of unity," she said, "let's declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president."
Clinton then moved that the convention suspend the rules and the continuation of the roll-call vote and asked that Obama be nominated by acclamation. Her motion triggered another thunderous round of applause and cheers from delegates. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) quickly gaveled the nomination to a close, triggering a demonstration that brought the party ever closer to unity.
Obama was nominated by Michael Wilson, a registered Republican and Iraq war veteran, with seconding speeches by Sen. Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Artur Davis (Ala.).
Wilson praised Obama for his opposition to the Iraq war and his willingness to meet with enemies of the United States. "You know, there's an old saying: 'If you always do what you did, you'll always get what you got,' " he said. "America needs new leadership in the White House, and that leader is Barack Obama."
Clinton was nominated by civil rights leader Dolores Huerta of California, who called the senator a champion for working people. "She has stood with hardworking people and knows how important it is to keep fighting and keep going," she said. "For many in America, working people are invisible. For Hillary Clinton, no American is invisible."
Long before the marquee speakers came to the hall, a procession of Democratic elected officials blasted McCain and Bush in an effort to undermine the GOP's advantage on foreign policy issues.
Former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), an early supporter of Obama, directly addressed the question of whether Obama is ready to serve as commander in chief by holding up the current administration as an example.
"Together Vice President Cheney, [former defense secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and John McCain brought more than a century of experience to our foreign policy challenges," he said. "And what did that get us? One international debacle after another."
Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, noted that McCain had voted with the administration 90 percent of the time and that a McCain administration would look like a Bush administration. He argued that Obama would keep the country safer than McCain would.
"George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "They misread the threat and misled the country."
Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), who was one of the finalists in the vice presidential search, described McCain as "not the change we need" and, despite having voted for the Iraq war resolution, attacked Bush and McCain for their prosecution of that conflict.
"George Bush and John McCain were wrong about going to war in Iraq, are wrong about how to get us out of Iraq, wrong to ignore the danger in Afghanistan," said Bayh, who became an administration critic. "The time for change has come, and Barack Obama is the change we need."
Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr., Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.