- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER | Barack Obama’s soaring oratory gave his candidacy the liftoff that propelled him to the Democratic nomination, but Thursday night he hammered on the issue he thinks will win him the presidency.

The nation is in a near recession, remains at war, and eight years of Republican White House rule is enough.

“Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay and tuition that is beyond your reach,” Mr. Obama saidwhen formally accepting the Democratic presidential nomination before a jubilant crowd in a packed football stadium.

In a stepped-up assault on the administration and his Republican rival John McCain, he acknowledged that “not all of the country’s problems are of the government’s making. But the failure to respond [to them] is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed presidency of George W. Bush.”

Speaking from a massive stage built in the middle of the Denver Broncos’ 76,000-seat football stadium, he defined Mr. McCain’s candidacy as a bid for a third Bush term, and served notice he was prepared to lead America in a new direction away from eight years of Republican rule.

Anticipating that the Republican Party and the McCain campaign will attempt to define him as weak on national security, Mr. Obama also pledged that “as commander in chief I will never hesitate to defend this nation.

“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 said.

One by one, the freshman senator from Illinois attacked on issues that Republicans say he is vulnerable on with average Americans.

cOn abortion: “We may not agree on abortion but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

cOn gun control, an issue he championed in the Illinois state senate: “Don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.”

cOn oil exploration: “Now is the time to stop this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.”

Mr. Obama came to Denver on Wednesday with a lot riding on his long-anticipated, nationally televised acceptance speech before a massive stadium rally that at times resembled a rock concert.

Some Democrats expressed nervousness over the mass-audience, open-air venue and how it would play among older voters. But polls showed he has lost some support among the youth vote “and he has got to win back the enthusiasm of younger people and this is the way to do it,” pollster John Zogby said.

Mr. Obama had been beaten up by the McCain campaign throughout the month of August in a nonstop bombardment of stinging TV and Internet ads that questioned the former state senator’s limited experience and said he was not ready to lead the country.

Polls showed that the attacks have taken their toll. Surveys reported he had lost his lead over Mr. McCain and the race was a dead heat. He had lost support among a number of constituencies, including white working-class voters, and was struggling in battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

Despite thousands of campaign appearances and untold TV interviews, Democrats here this week said that Mr. Obama, 47, was still unknown to many Americans.

“A lot of Americans are just tuning in to the political process, and this will give them a better idea of who Barack Obama is and what it is he will try to do,” said Allan Katz, a member of the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee from Tallahassee, Fla.

Mr. Obama used the prime-time address to do just that.

“Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to,” he said.

“It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.”

But Democratic polls find that Mr. Obama’s problems run deeper than his life story.

Polling late last month by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and strategist James Carville among voters in heavily Democratic Macomb County, Mich., concluded: “They are not sure they really know him well enough to trust him and race is a consideration that rises to the level of a threshold issue, with voters wanting to be sure he will represent everyone.”

“Just 45 percent say Obama will bring the right kind of change or makes them feel hopeful about the future,” their study said.

An equally important challenge for the presidential nominee will be to convince voters that although he has a thin resume and has been in the U.S. Senate less than four years, he is ready to lead the country and assume the powers of the presidency as commander in chief.

His running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., and former President Bill Clinton presented the case for his readiness in back-to-back convention speeches Wednesday night. But the jury is still out on that question, and early polls suggest that the convention bounce candidates usually get was less than expected.

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