- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

UPDATED:

DENVER — Barack Obama on Thursday night completed his historic journey from a freshman lawmaker with soaring oratory to America’s first black major-party presidential candidate, accepting the Democratic nomination and promising a stadium full of supporters a bold change that would fix “the broken politics of Washington” after years of Republican rule.

With the granduer of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, Mr. Obama seized his chance to tell the entire nation in detail how he would change course from President Bush on issues as diverse as energy independence, national security and economic growth and to separate himself from the ideas of the more seasoned Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

“America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this,” Mr. Obama told an estimated 80,000 cheering and flag-waving fans who streamed into the cavernous Invesco Field at Mile High to witness history.

FULL TEXT:Barack Obama’s speech

Alternating between the evocative and the pragmatic, the Illinois Democrat laid clear blame for the country’s current wartime predicaments of high gas prices, soaring deficits and failing mortgages on President Bush.

“These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed presidency of George W. Bush,” Mr. Obama charged.

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land enough! This moment — this election — is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive,” he said.

“Next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: ‘Eight is enough,’ ” he said.

With his acceptance, Mr. Obama, 47, shattered a once-unthinkable barrier in becoming the first black American to win a major-party presidential nomination and doing so just a half-century since some states would have treated him as a second-class citizen in terms of voting and public accommodations.

The date of his speech only heightened the sense of history, 45 years to the day since Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. A handful of Democrats who witnessed that historic address in 1963 were in the stadium to see the man who fulfilled that dream, and King’s son Martin Luther King III was also to appear on stage.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement, introduced Mr. King by telling the massive crowd: “I was there that day.”

“Tonight we gathered here in this magnificent stadium in Denver because we still have a dream. As a participant in the civil rights movement I can tell you that the road to victory will not be easy,” he said. “We are making a down payment on the fulfillment of that dream. We prove that a dream still burns in the hearts of every American, that this dream was too right, too necessary, too noble to ever die.”

Throughout the week long gathering, many black Americans could be seen weeping with joy at what they were witnessing. Shortly after 10 p.m. EDT Thursday, Mr. Obama uttered the words they longed to hear: “With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.”

The Illinois senator became the first person since John F. Kennedy in 1960 to accept a presidential nomination in an open-air stadium. With prime-time television watching, Mr. Obama delivered his address beneath a Greek revival portico, reminiscent of the national monuments in Washington, erected at the 50-yard line of the stadium where pro football’s Denver Broncos play.

By the time he spoke, few seats in the stands were empty.

The portico opened at the end of his speech and shot bright-colored fireworks into the air before tons of confetti showered on the delegates whooping on the convention floor.

Mr. McCain was in Ohio Friday, getting ready to announce his own vice-presidential pick, and he recorded an ad offering his congratulations to Mr. Obama to be broadcast after the speech.

“How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day,” the Arizona senator said, looking straight at the camera. “Tomorrow, we’ll be back at it. But tonight, Senator: Job well done.”

Mr. Obama offered similar kind words for Mr. McCain while insisting that a McCain presidency would only persist the direction of the Bush era. He said his rival “has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect.”

“Next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need,” he said. “But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.”

His speech outlined in detail his plans for fixing the economy, battling climate change and fulfilling his promise to “end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

“I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future,” Mr. Obama said.

But the nominee did not describe how he would pay for all he promised, warning instead of future tough choices. “America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past,” he said.

His running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. formally accepted the vice presidential nomination the previous evening and called Mr. Obama “a leader who can deliver change.”

Mr. Biden on Thursday said he was tired of people beating up on Mr. Obama’s young age.

“If I hear one more time that he was 11 years old when I went to the Senate, I’m going to smack somebody,” he said.

He later made a surprise appearance at Invesco Field, telling the crowd this is what Democrats mean by promising “an open convention.”

From the big screens in Times Square to the upper deck of Denver’s stadium, Americans took stock of a nominee who has both inspired and intrigued. Every aspect of the Rocky Mountain-draped stadium was tailored for TV, from the white columns that surrounded the speaking stage to the blue carpeted runway and two-dozen American flags that evoked images of the West Wing.

An aerial shot of the stadium showed TV viewers the breathless spectacle of a nominee engulfed in a sea of humanity, exactly the image Obama handlers wanted.

Crowds did the wave and cheered loudly all afternoon, and their thunderous foot stomping shook the entire press box on the stadium’s fourth level. Staffers passed voters thousands of handheld American flags.

The nominee, who burst onto the scene as a little-known Illinois lawmaker who wowed delegates as the keynote speaker at the 2004 convention, took on directly the criticisms Republicans have heaped upon him in recent weeks: too inexperienced, more celebrity than substance, weak on foreign policy.

“If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have,” he declared.

“We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country,” he said, with cadence of a Baptist preacher.

He also addressed gun rights and abortion.

“We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country,” he said in a clear appeal to Catholics in swing states and evangelicals who lean Republican.

As for gun ownership, he declared: “Don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.”

Team Obama also turned the nomination speech into an opportunity, putting attendees to work for the campaign. They had people make phone calls and send campaign text messages and stationed volunteers with voter registration forms posted throughout the stadium.

The Obama state director for Colorado announced they’d signed up 30,000 new text message subscribers.

The line to get in through heightened security stretched far beyond the parking lot, and buses taking people to the stadium filled up as early as lunchtime.

Campaign manager David Plouffe — a normally shy figure who avoids the spotlight — spoke to several thousand when the convention’s final day began. He said the campaign intends to teach Republicans a lesson about community organizing, and said they will realize after the election that “this night and this convention is one of the reasons we turned Colorado Obama blue on November fourth.”

He also pushed a “massive” voter registration drive that kicks off this weekend and encouraged volunteers to push early voting to free up supporters for Election Day work.

“This election is in your hands, not mine, not anyone on this campaign staff, not the pundits, not the party,” he said. “You need to own this campaign.”

Former Vice President Al Gore revved up the crowd, telling voters Mr. McCain is offering a Bush repeat.

“Hey, I believe in recycling, but that’s ridiculous,” he said.

Mr. Gore laid out the case for Mr. Obama by referencing his 2000 bid, when he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College tally after a prolonged Supreme Court battle.

“Eight years ago some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two parties, and it didn’t much matter who became president,” Mr. Gore said. “I doubt anyone would argue that now.”

Mr. Gore also compared Mr. Obama to Abraham Lincoln, saying the 16th president was revered for being “a clear thinker and great orator, with a passion for justice and a determination to heal the deep divisions of our land.”

The campaign invited regular voters from Colorado and across the country to attend the speech, moving the convention from its original location in a smaller arena to the football stadium.

The star-studded event included Jennifer Hudson singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and other performances by will.i.am, Sheryl Crow, John Legend and Stevie Wonder.

Mr. Obama was introduced by a short biographical film produced by Academy Award winning moviemaker Davis Guggenheim. Some of it was shot in South Dakota before the primary concluded June 3.

The son of a Kenyan father and American mother from Kansas — born in Hawaii just a few years after the island’s official statehood — Mr. Obama ran a 19-month campaign with an unmistakable message of optimism.

“Yes, we can,” became his mantra across the country as he toppled the more established Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and batted away relentless attacks from Republicans about his middle name, persistent email rumors that he is Muslim despite his insistence he is a committed Christian and a resume his critics in both parties claimed was light.

Along the way, he shattered fund-raising records and drew in countless Americans who for years sat on the sidelines without donating or voting - particularly in minority communities.

Many of those voters were showcased during the convention as party elders from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to Bill Clinton helped Mr. Obama usher in a new generation of Democrats. As attendees trickled into the stadium, hundreds of photos were displayed in a rotation as the “Faces of America. The program also included six handpicked people who the campaign said provided “American Voices” and who each had a story further the Obama message of a struggling economy.

The final speaker, Barney Smith of Marion, Indiana, stole the show by saying Mr. Obama would care more about Main Street than Wall Street.

“We need a President who will put Barney Smith ahead of Smith Barney,” he said, and the crowd erupted in laughter.

Mr. Obama sought to build a new coalition for the Democratic Party at the dawn of the 21st century, one more liberal than the centrist voting blocs of the Clinton era.

A frequent promise was that he would govern not by polls but by principle.

His victory was not without controversy, though. He lost nine of the last 13 primaries as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign gained belated steam by pulling together a coalition of women and white blue-collar voters distrustful of the Illinois senator after verbal gaffes that insulted religious people and gun owners, and revelations that his church pastor had made racist comments from the pulpit.

Staked to an early lead, Mr. Obama has recently fallen into a dead heat with Mr. McCain, a fellow senator with far greater seniority, and the GOP have attempted to turn Mr. Obama’s greatest asset — his confident celebrity, able to fill stadiums in America and historic locations in Germany with tens of thousand of adoring supporters — into a liability.

Top members of the Obama campaign team insisted Thursday they believe the race will remain close through the Nov. 4 election.

They downplayed expectations the Illinois senator will get the major poll “bounce” from the convention, especially since Mr. McCain’s vice presidential selection will come by Friday and the GOP convention begins Monday.

“We had no illusions that this was going to be anything but close,” said chief strategist David Axelrod “In terms of the popular vote, there’s no such thing as a landslide in American politics.”

Mr. Obama is now braced for a fall campaign from Republicans aimed at portraying him as light on substance, heavy on style. He got a good taste of those attack lines this week as top-named Republicans crashed his convention party and filled the Denver airwaves with sharp attacks.

Democrats promised to return the favor when Mr. McCain accepts his party nod next week.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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