DENVER – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton roused the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night with sharp criticism of Sen. John McCain and a full-throated endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, her former rival for the party’s nomination, urging Democrats to put the battle behind them and unite to take back the White House in November.
“You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership,” Clinton told an audience packed to overflowing at Denver’s Pepsi Center. “No way. No how. No McCain. Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president.”
With some Clinton supporters still voicing reluctance to back the senator from Illinois, the former first lady’s address was the most highly anticipated of the convention, short of Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night. Her appearance was designed to signal the final transition from the leader of her own historic campaign, which drew 18 million votes, to unabashed supporter of the party’s presumptive nominee.
Introduced as “my hero” by daughter Chelsea, Clinton received a thunderous welcome when she walked onstage to a sea of white placards with her familiar “Hillary” signature in blue. Before her entrance, delegates watched a video, narrated by her daughter, that paid tribute to her campaign and gently mocked her well-known laugh and her inability to carry a tune.
Clinton described the passions that drove her to seek the presidency, including a desire to rebuild the economy, enact universal health care, end the war in Iraq and stand up for what she called “invisible” Americans.
“Those are the reasons I ran for president. These are the reasons I support Barack Obama. And those are the reasons you should, too,” she told an audience that included her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, of Delaware.
When she finished, the white placards that had greeted her gave way to blue-and-white signs that said “Obama” on one side and “Unity” on the other.
Clinton called McCain “a colleague and a friend who has served his country with honor.” But she told the delegates, “We don’t need four more years of the last eight years,” and she drew a huge cheer when she described as a virtual clone of President Bush who would continue the administration’s policies.
“It makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities,” she said, referring to the site of the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. “Because these days, they’re awfully hard to tell apart.”
Before Hillary Clinton arrived at the convention, former Virginia governor Mark Warner, delivering the keynote address, described Obama as the candidate best equipped to put the United States on course to win “the race for the future” in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Arguing that the status quo “just won’t cut it,” Warner called McCain a politician who would explode the deficit, ignore the nation’s infrastructure needs and continue spending $10 billion a month on the Iraq war. “That’s four more years that we just can’t afford,” he said to cheers. “Barack Obama has a different vision and a different plan.”
The election, Warner said, is not about left vs. right, but future vs. past. He said Obama would not govern as a partisan Democrat but would reach out to the opposition to get things done.
As convention delegates looked toward the evening program, top Democratic elected officials continued to raise questions about Obama’s campaign strategy and worried aloud that he must do more to overcome the doubts voters in their states have about his readiness to be president.
Their concerns came as McCain blasted Obama in a speech to the American Legion convention in Phoenix.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, a prominent Clinton supporter, said that Obama is still struggling to connect with working-class voters.
“You ask him a question, and he gives you a six-minute answer,” Rendell told Washington Post reporters and editors. “And the six-minute answer is smart as all get-out. It’s intellectual. It’s well framed. It takes care of all the contingencies. But it’s a lousy sound bite.”
Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y., said Obama’s campaign must demonstrate its willingness to engage against a Republican Party that he said is well skilled in political combat.
“The only thing they’re going to do is, in old Brooklyn terms, rabbit-punch every day, and Obama has to show the American people that he can rabbit-punch, that he can be in that street fight,” he said. “I think there was a reluctance initially in the Obama campaign to engage in that. I think they now realize they have to.”
As Democrats looked to day two of their convention, they were still debating what had happened on opening night, when an ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts, electrified the crowd with a speech urging Democrats to rally behind Obama, and the candidate’s wife, Michelle, in the final speech of the night, made a powerful case that her husband’s biography and values are widely shared by the American people.
But the general absence of criticism of McCain or Bush left some Democrats wondering whether they had sacrificed an opportunity to fire back at Republicans at a moment when one of the largest audiences of the campaign may be tuning in.
Obama officials defended the scripting of Monday’s program as necessary to begin filling in Obama’s profile but said that as the week goes forward, the GOP will receive plenty of tough criticism.
In contrast to Monday’s opening program, Tuesday’s speakers criticized McCain and Bush. Democrats cast McCain as a clone of the president, out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans and an advocate of economic policies that would widen the income gap between rich and poor.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius called McCain a candidate who “believes in country-club economics,” who would privatize Social Security and who has supported tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
Pennsylvania’s Rendell, whose unscripted remarks earlier Tuesday may have created some heartburn for the Obama team, was fully on script when he appeared onstage in Denver, attacking McCain on energy policy.
“If you look past the speeches to his record, it’s clear: John McCain has never believed in renewable energy and he won’t make it part of America’s future,” Rendell said. “For all his talk, here’s the truth: John McCain voted against establishing a national renewable-energy standard.
He voted against tax incentives for renewable-energy companies. And for all his talk of drilling, he refused to endorse a bipartisan effort to expand domestic oil production because that bipartisan proposal would end tax breaks for Big Oil.”