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Virginia's Warner: Party must seize opportunity

Former a Gov. Mark Warner offered a lesson in Virginia-style bipartisanship to thousands of hardcore Democrats in his convention keynote speech Tuesday night.
Image: Mark Warner
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner delivers the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Tuesday night.Jae C. Hong / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, keynoting the Democratic National Convention, said Tuesday night that American voters "have one shot to get it right" by electing Barack Obama president to end Republican leadership that is stuck in the past.

Warner rebuked President Bush and GOP nominee-to-be John McCain, but his address was hardly a summons to political arms against them. He mentioned McCain's name only twice, and he said he'd learned in the cell phone business that made him millions that a strategy of tearing down the competition doesn't suffice.

"I know we're at the Democratic convention, but if an idea works, it really doesn't matter if it has an R or a D next to it," Warner said. "Because this election isn't about liberal versus conservative. It's not about left versus right. It's about the future versus the past."

And "in George Bush and John McCain's America, far too many" people don't know whether that future will hold what they need, said Warner, who argued that Obama will change that.

In his sharpest words for the Republican nominee, Warner said, "John McCain promises more of the same."

"A plan that would explode the deficit that will be passed on to our kids. No real plan to invest in our infrastructure. And his plan would continue spending $10 billion a month in Iraq," Warner said.

He said Obama will build a future of promise, in which "old partisanship gives way to new ideas ... and hope replaces fear ..."

Four years ago, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention, a speech that propelled him onto the national political stage.

Warner, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in a state with a habit of split-ticket voting, spent part of his national address talking about his achievements as governor of Virginia, dealing with a GOP legislature "and a whole lot of good folks who didn't see themselves as either Democrats or Republicans but as Virginians."

The Democratic delegates applauded him dutifully, cheered briefly when he said continuation of the war in Iraq is wrong, but generally just listened to the lecture-like keynote speech.

"Right now, at this critical moment in our history, we have one shot to get it right," Warner said. "And the status quo just won't cut it."

In energy, health care, education and America's world standing, there are opportunities with change and risks without them, Warner said. He said Obama is the candidate who "knows we don't have another four years to waste."

"And Barack Obama knows this too," he said. "We need leaders who see our common ground as sacred ground. We need leaders who will appeal to us not as Republicans or Democrats but first and foremost as Americans."

But some Democrats were already complaining even before Warner delivered his speech, saying that Warner's job was to put a dent in Republican 's image.

"This isn't the Richmond Chamber of Commerce," said Democratic consultant Paul Begala.

For Warner, who is seeking the Senate seat of retiring Republican John Warner, a red-meat speech that would bring the party's most passionate warriors to their feet in Denver would undermine a carefully cultivated image at home that has given him a strong lead in statewide polls and a lopsided fundraising advantage.

Warner's election as governor in 2001 revived a moribund Democratic Party in a state where Republicans controlled every statewide office or elected institution of government. For Warner to work with a General Assembly that was overwhelmingly Republican when he took office, bipartisanship was not optional.

Now, in the race to replace a moderate senator, Warner is appealing to independent and even Republican voters by billing himself as a "radical centrist" in his campaign against rigidly conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore.

"I'm not going to say one thing in Richmond or in Danville and another thing at the Democratic Convention in Denver. I understand some folks may not like that, but ... you know, I'm a job applicant," Warner said.

Warner's featured role fit the Obama campaign plan to challenge the Republicans in what has been reliable presidential territory for them. Virginia has voted Republican in every presidential election since Lyndon Johnson carried the state in 1964. This time, the Obama campaign sees an opening to wrest away 13 electoral votes.

"The race for the future is on, and it won't be won if only some Americans are in the running," Warner said. "It won't be won with yesterday's ideas and yesterday's divisions.

"And it won't be won with a president who is stuck in the past," he said. "We need a president who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need. We need Barack Obama."

Four years ago, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry, a speech that propelled him to the national stage.