August 25, 2008

Energized Democrats Gather to Open Last Stage of Campaign

By Brian Knowlton, Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny

John M. Broder contributed from Springfield, Illinois; Carl Hulse contributed from Washington; and Dalia Sussman from New York.


Democratic delegates from across the country and around the world converged here Sunday, many of whom said they were energized by the choice of Joseph Biden Jr. to be Senator Barack Obama's running mate, as party leaders sought to patch up resentments and rivalries lingering from the primaries.

The announcement Saturday that Obama had picked Biden, a Senate veteran respected for his foreign-policy expertise and with a reputation as a political brawler, had been closely held despite increasingly fervid speculation about whom he would choose.

The choice drew instant criticism from the campaign of Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee. New ads pointed out that Biden, before abandoning his own presidential candidacy, had questioned whether Obama was "ready" to be president.

On Sunday, party leaders and some of his rivals for the No. 2 spot rallied around Biden. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the speaker of the House, said the choice of Biden reflected Obama's confidence, not any foreign-affairs shortcomings. Biden "is not your standard Washington fare," she said, adding: "This is a person who challenges the status quo" and would not be a "yes-man."

Starting Monday - when the convention opens, to the acceptance speech Thursday before as many as 75,000 people at a football stadium, Republican voices will largely be drowned out.

Obama hopes to be the first black American president, which makes his candidacy a historic struggle.

The Democratic heavyweights scheduled to address the convention range from Bill Clinton to Al Gore and the party must appease lingering resentment from supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Nominating conventions may have lost the rough-and-tumble drama of yesteryear, but - with the exception of the presidential debates - they are probably the most important stage for both parties to present their standard bearers. Two-thirds of undecided voters say the conventions will be important in helping them make up their minds, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll.

Biden, a six-term senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will address the convention Wednesday in what will be his first major introduction to many Americans.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Democrats in Denver will be reuniting a party strained by the months-long battle between Obama and Clinton.

In one show of unity Sunday, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, considered one of four finalists for the position awarded to Biden, told CNN that he supported the new ticket "100 percent." Another presumed finalist, Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, assailed McCain, telling CBS that the Arizona senator's admission last week that he did not know how many houses he owned showed him to be "totally out of touch" with ordinary Americans. Another finalist, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, said Saturday that Obama had made "a great pick in Joe Biden."

Terry McAuliffe, who was Clinton's campaign manager, brushed aside suggestions that the New York senator felt slighted at not gaining more serious consideration from Obama. "We've got to get Barack Obama elected president," he said, adding that he was speaking for both Clintons.

In a brief statement, Hillary Clinton said: "Senator Obama has continued in the best traditions for the vice presidency by selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant. Senator Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president."

But it is hardly clear that Clinton's supporters will be outwardly enthusiastic at the convention. Clinton's name will be placed into nomination on Wednesday, a symbolic move aimed at soothing resentments.

More than half of the delegates Clinton won in the long and at times bitter primary battle now say they are enthusiastic supporters of Obama and believe he will win in November, according to a New York Times-CBS Poll. Three in 10 say they support Obama but have reservations about him or that they support him only because he is the nominee.

Moreover, the poll suggests that Clinton's roughly 1,900 pledged delegates are closely split over whom they plan to vote for on the floor of the convention during the roll-call vote Wednesday evening.

Obama's wife, Michelle, will address the opening night of the convention, along with Pelosi and others. Former Governor Mark Warner of Virginia, once thought of as a possible presidential candidate, will deliver the keynote speech Tuesday. Hillary Clinton speaks, too, reportedly focusing on party unity.

On Wednesday, a night focusing on "a new, tough, foreign policy approach," Biden and Bill Clinton will be featured. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the party's unsuccessful presidential nominee in 2004, will also speak. Thursday will see an appearance by Gore, the former vice president.

Republicans, whose convention begins Sept. 1 in Minneapolis, plan to waste no time trying to wrest back the spotlight.

McCain is widely expected to name his running mate Friday, a move that will guarantee a weekend of coverage.

Obama announced his selection when the conflict between Russia and Georgia has provided Republicans an opportunity to re-inject foreign policy into an election that has increasingly focused on the economy, and as McCain has been proving himself a scrappier opponent than many Democrats had expected.

At the rally in Springfield, Illinois, on Saturday to introduce the Democratic team, Biden offered a preview of what he would be doing in the next 10 weeks - attacking McCain. "I have been disappointed in my friend John McCain," he said, "who gave in to the right wing of his party and gave in to the Swift boat politics he once so deplored."


Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny reported from Washington.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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