The mood of the Democrats meeting in Denver this week was a mixture of optimism and concern. Optimism because the polls show that they will do well in the Congressional elections – winning at least 6 Senate seats and between 15 and 30 in the House – and concern because Barack Obama was only level pegging with McCain in the polls and worried about what Bill and Hillary Clinton would do.
The concerns surrounding the Clintons were soon dispelled by the stemwinder speech that Hillary gave on the Tuesday night, followed by Bill Clinton the next day. They both fully supported the Obama-Biden ticket and the response from delegates showed that Bill Clinton has been forgiven for some of his hardhitting rhetoric during the primary campaign. Hillary Clinton won the hearts of delegates with a punchy speech attacking the Republicans and committing herself to Obama, but also leaving herself enough leeway that if Obama does not win she can reemerge in 2012. Her move the next day to go onto the floor of the Convention, join the New York delegation and interrupt the voting for the nomination for president to request the voting be suspended and Obama be nominated by acclamation was seen by many as a generous and unifying move.
Although I found many of the speeches to the Convention by elected Senators and Congressman to be poor, there were a number of outstanding speeches by Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and amputee, Beau Biden, the Attorney General of Delaware and Joe Biden himself.
The theme of the speeches was a deft combination of highlighting the positive in Barack Obama and laying into the Republicans – linking McCain with the highly unpopular Bush Administration on the theme of no to four more years of the last eight years.
The most poignant moment of the whole Convention was the tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy on the first night. A Lion in the Senate and beloved by delegates, it was uncertain, owing to his illness, whether he would be coming to Denver at all. The uncertainty added to the poignancy and when he appeared on the podium, following a film tribute and introduction by his niece, President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline, the whole Convention erupted. He then wowed the Convention with a faultless and powerful ten minute speech in support of Obama. He brought the Convention to its feet by turning on their head the final words of his concession speech at the 1980 Convention, after failing to defeat Jimmy Carter for the Presidential nomination, when he declare that "the hope endures and the dream shall never die" now that the torch has passed to Barack Obama.
The climax to the week was the acceptance speech by Barack Obama. For the first time since John Kennedy’s acceptance speech in 1960 in Los Angeles, this was held outside at Invesco Field, the home of the Denver Broncos. 85,000 people packed into the stadium to hear music from Stevie Wonder and Sheryll Crow, speeches from Al Gore, John Lewis and Martin Luther King 3rd (it was the 45th anniversary of King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech) before Obama spoke. By the time he arrived on the stage it was dark, which added to the piquancy of the moment. In a speech worthy of Martin Luther King he accepted the nomination, laid out his vision for America and laid into McCain. The crowd loved it but will it win him the general election on 4th November?
If the election is fought on domestic and economic issues then the chances of Obama are greatly increased because, economically, America is hurting. If McCain can turn the election into a fight on who wouiild be the best protector of America’s security the situation becomes more tricky but by talking the fight to McCain, Obama has significsantly narrowed the gap and his selecion of Joe Biden as his running mate, with all his experience in foreign affairs, can only help him. However, if he had picked Hillary Clinton he would have created the dream ticket for the Democrats.