DENVER | An ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy dramatically passed the torch of Democratic leadership to Sen. Barack Obama on Monday night while the nominee’s wife opened the party’s nominating convention with an affectionate tribute to her husband as a man strong enough to lead a nation and tender enough to display the “affirming embrace of a father’s love.”
In a night of carefully scripted pageantry and emotional tribute, Democrats opened their quadrennial event still seeking a unity that has eluded them since the close of the bitter primary battle between Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The job of healing rifts fell initially to the party’s ailing iconic figure who offered his familiar lion’s roar despite weeks of treatment for a brain tumor and the mother of two young children who aspires to be the next first lady.
• VIDEO:On the floor in Denver
Michelle Obama, wearing a sleek turquoise dress with a star brooch, outlined her husband’s world vision.
“Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: That you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them and even if you don’t agree with them,” she told the packed convention hall.
“We want our children and all children in this nation to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them,” she said.
Stealing the show before her, Mr. Kennedy took the stage amid wild cheers.
“The torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans,” he said. “The dream lives on.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama and his former chief rival for the nomination sought to downplay their differences and rally their troops to form a unified front against Republican Sen. John McCain in the fall.
Mrs. Clinton met earlier in the day with her New York state delegation, telling them she planned to cast her vote during Wednesday’s roll call for Mr. Obama and encouraging them to do the same.
The campaigns agreed on a deal to put each of them in nomination and for Mrs. Clinton to get some votes from the start of the roll call, but then end the process and declare Mr. Obama the nominee by acclamation.
But several delegates said from the convention floor they were still backing the former first lady and would not switch to the presumptive nominee until she formally releases them.