DENVER | Seizing his moment in the national spotlight, former Virginia governor and current Senate candidate Mark Warner on Tuesday night framed the fall election as a “race for the future” that Sen. Barack Obama and Democrats must win with new ideas and pragmatic politics.
Cast in the role of keynote speaker on a night of relentless attacks on Republicans, Mr. Warner mixed a few obligatory harsh barbs with a call for postpartisan politics as he reached into his own personal history as a businessman and to Thomas Jefferson’s vision for America to implore delegates to seize the future.
“I know we’re at the Democratic convention, but if an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to it,” he said. “This election isn’t about liberal versus conservative. It’s not about left versus right. It’s about the future versus the past.”
Mr. Warner, who earned a reputation of working with both parties, took several obligatory shots at the Republican Party, declaring that President Bush and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain are “stuck in the past” and not up to the task of leading.
“Two wars, a warming planet, an energy policy that says, ‘Let’s borrow money from China to buy oil from countries that don’t like us,’” Mr. Warner said. “How many people look at these things and wonder what the future holds for them? … In George Bush and John McCain’s America, far too many.”
The speaking slot was a heady role for Mr. Warner, who himself had considered entering the presidential race but dropped out and is instead running for Virginia’s open Senate seat.
Mr. Warner repeatedly pointed to his own experiences as the first college graduate in his family, as a Harvard-trained lawyer-turned-businessman whose first companies failed, but who finally hit on a success.
“There’s only one country in the world where I could have received that education, where I could have been given not just one chance, or two, but three, and where I could have succeeded,” he said. “At our best, it’s not your lineage or last name that matters. It’s not where you come from that counts — it’s where you want to go.”
By contrast, he referred to Mr. Obama 10 times. He never talked about Mr. Obama’s personal story, but instead focused on the change Mr. Obama promises to bring as president.
“That’s why we must elect Barack Obama as our next president; because the race for the future will be won when old partisanship gives way to new ideas, when we put solutions over stalemates, and when hope replaces fear,” Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Warner’s political career parallels that of Mr. Obama four years ago.
Both Mr. Warner and Mr. Obama strike the same postpartisan political note, arguing that they have demonstrated crossover appeal to Republicans and independents.
Where Mr. Obama argued for a new America to replace the red and blue states, Mr. Warner argued from his businessman’s perspective.
“If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition, it wouldn’t last long. So why is this wisdom so hard to find in Washington?” he said.
Among the other parallels are the political situations in which Mr. Obama found himself back in 2004, and what Mr. Warner faces now.
Mr. Obama was a state senator running for a seat held by a retiring Republican, and was considered a shoo-in by most pundits. Mr. Warner this year is running for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. John W. Warner, no relation, and is considered to have nearly locked up his race.
But former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, the Republican facing Mr. Warner this November, said the Virginia election won’t be decided by Tuesday’s performance.
“Mark Warner has worked awfully hard to try to persuade the people of Virginia he’s something that he isn’t,” Mr. Gilmore said. “All this centrist talk and all that kind of thing he likes to talk about. I just think tonight the guy came out of the closet. The guy is liberal, and that’s what we saw. He was very attacking of John McCain, he was very much pandering to Barack Obama.”
Mr. Gilmore said Mr. Warner ignored drilling for oil, which Mr. Gilmore said was the key solution to high gas prices. Instead, Mr. Warner talked about future alternatives.
“A speech like this puts him between Barack and a hard place,” Mr. Gilmore said.
Mr. Warner succeeded Mr. Gilmore as governor and took a swipe, though without mentioning Mr. Gilmore by name.
“When I became governor, this is what Virginia faced: a massive budget shortfall; an economy that wasn’t moving; gridlock in the capital,” he said. But he said that striking a bipartisan agreement with a Republican-dominated legislature “closed the budget gap, and Virginia was named the best managed state in the nation.”
Christie Bieber, a delegate to the convention from Virginia, was enthusiastic about the speech.
“Mark Warner is going to provide us with independent leadership that Washington really needs,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having two United States senators who are both Democrats.”
• Sean Madden contributed to this article.