Hillary Clinton rose to the occasion and in most peoples view far exceeded expectations in a speech that offered a ringing endorsement of Barack Obama and a call for Democratic unity.
By Joshua Chaffin in New York and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Denver
Mrs Clinton pronounced herself a “proud supporter” of Mr Obama on Tuesday as she urged supporters at the Democratic convention to fall in line behind her erstwhile rival to reclaim a nation in peril.
“It is time to take back the country we love, and whether you voted for me, or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single vision,” Mrs Clinton declared in a speech that many observers instantly deemed her most powerful of the campaign.
The New York senator’s address had been one of the most anticipated moments of this convention. Just months after she reluctantly dropped out of the race, Mrs Clinton was being called on to heal the wounds of an unusually long and bitter campaign – one that stoked arguments about race and gender – to unify the party for its showdown with Republican Senator John McCain.
Her address was delivered amid a backdrop of whispers about simmering unhappiness of Clinton supporters and reports that some of her fundraisers were still not prepared to offer Mr Obama their full-fledged support.
Yet Mrs Clinton gave no hint of bitterness. She was full-throated in her support of Senator Obama as she challenged her supporters – the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits, as she called them – to remember the ideals that brought them to politics in the first place.
“I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”
Fears of dissention in the hall gave way as she spoke. Tears and rapturous cheers greeted her remarks.
“You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months or endured the last eight years to suffer through more failed leadership,” she told her supporters. “No way, no how, no McCain.”
Earlier in the evening, Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor, used his role as keynote speaker to portray Senator Barack Obama as the man best equipped to lead the country into a globally-competitive, high-tech future while deriding his Republican opponent as a man “stuck in the past.”
Mr Warner’s appearance before Senator Clinton served as a reminder of how Mr Obama’s underdog campaign overturned the conventional wisdom about this year’s election. Just a few years ago, Mr Warner had been viewed as the strongest potential challenger to Mrs Clinton as she claimed the Democratic nomination. Instead, both found themselves on the podium on the convention’s second night helping to make the case for Mr Obama.
Mrs Clinton took the podium after a lavish video tribute and an introduction by her daughter, Chelsea.
Her tone was markedly different from the one she employed at an appearance in New York on the last day of voting in early June, when she failed to concede the race to Mr Obama and suggested that her supporters might take the fight to the convention.
“We are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines,” Mrs Clinton declared as her husband, the former President Bill Clinton, looked on from the audience.
“Barack Obama is my candidate, and he must be our president,” she added.
Some of her loudest applause came when Mrs Clinton invoked the economic record of her husband’s administration as proof that the Democrats could restore a country increasingly competing with China and other emerging economies.
Alison Umberger, a delegate from Virginia, said Mrs Clinton was “wonderful”. “She’s done all she has to do. It had to take so much for her”.
Howard Wolfson, Mrs Clinton’s former communications director, said he believed that the speech would have an immediate impact in bringing Mrs Clinton’s diehard supporters into the Obama camp
Like other Democrats, Mrs Clinton minimized her direct attacks on Mr McCain. At one point, she referred to him as a friend. Yet she repeatedly sought to link him to an unpopular president.
“John McCain says the economy is fundamentally sound. John McCain doesn’t think that 47 million people without health insurance is a crisis. John McCain wants to privatize Social Security. And in 2008, he still thinks it’s OK when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work,” she said. “With an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.”
Earlier in the night, other Democrats followed a similar line of attack. At one point, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey drew attention to the similarities between Mr McCain’s voting record and the policies of Mr Bush. “That’s not a maverick,” Mr Casey quipped. “That’s a sidekick.”