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Bill Clinton, Biden Tout Obama's Preparedness

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Democratic Party has made history in Denver. With a unanimous vote last night. it officially nominated Barack Obama the first African-American to be the presidential nominee of a major party. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Barack Obama was nominated by acclamation.]

The party continued its process of reconciliation with former President Bill Clinton offering an unambiguous endorsement of Obama. Joe Biden was nominated as vice president. He offered himself as a bridge to the white working class voters he grew up with.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has this report.

MARA LIASSON: Roll call votes at conventions are usually just a formality, but this one was dramatic and emotional. In a carefully choreographed spectacle meant to symbolize Democratic unity, one after another of the states that Hillary Clinton won in the primaries began throwing all of their delegates to Obama.

There was Arkansas, then New Hampshire and New Jersey, and then, standing in a tight scrum of New York State officials on the floor of the Pepsi Center, Hillary Clinton herself asked the convention to suspend the roll call and nominate Obama by acclamation.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): With eyes firmly fixed on the future, in the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory, with faith in our party and our country, let's declare together in one voice right here right now that Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

LIASSON: That emotion was expected with cheers and hollers and some tears of joy as Clinton and Obama delegates boogied together to the sound of "Love Train."

(Soundbite of song, "Love Train")

LIASSON: Later in the evening there was another sign of unity.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: The rapturous welcome that Bill Clinton got when he walked out onto the stage.

President BILL CLINTON: Y'all sit down. We got to get on with the show here. Come on.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: There was no sign of the resentment that many Obama supporters felt about the former president's behavior on the campaign trail, and in Bill Clinton's remarks there was no sign of his own bitterness and disappointment.

Pres. CLINTON: I love this and I thank you. But we have important work to do tonight. I am here first to support Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CLINTON: And second...

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CLINTON: ...and second, I'm here to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden.

LIASSON: But Bill Clinton was more than just a warm-up act; his speech was a full-throated endorsement of Obama. He gave his wife's former rival his presidential seal of approval.

Pres. CLINTON: Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I have done since in America and across the globe has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: During the primaries, the Clintons had argued that Obama wasn't ready to lead, a line that the Republicans have picked up. Last night Clinton said Obama's choice of vice president proved that wasn't true.

Pres. CLINTON: With Joe Biden's experience and wisdom supporting Barack Obama's proven understanding, instincts and insight, America will have the national security leadership we need.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CLINTON: And so, my fellow Democrats, I say to you, Barack Obama is ready to lead America and to restore American leadership in the world.

LIASSON: The former president found a way to praise Obama and his own legacy in the same breath, by drawing a straight line between them. He asked the delegates to remember the campaign they waged for him 16 years ago, a campaign he said resulted in an era of peace and prosperity.

Pres. CLINTON: Together we prevailed in a hard campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CLINTON: Sound familiar?

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. CLINTON: It didn't work in 1992 because we were on the right side of history, and it will not work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

LIASSON: Clinton not only made the case for Obama better than anyone else at the convention so far, he also delivered a sharp critique of John McCain.

Pres. CLINTON: The choice is clear. The Republicans in a few days will nominate a good man who has served our country heroically and who suffered terribly in a Vietnamese prison camp. He loves his country every bit as much as we do. As a senator, he has shown his independence of right-wing orthodoxy on some very important issues.

But on the two great questions of this election - how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world - he still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for more than 25 years.

LIASSON: That line of attack was picked up by speaker after speaker in Denver, including John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 nominee, who was willing to mock his own campaign to make the point.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Candidate McCain now supports the very wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding me, folks?

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. KERRY: Talk about being for it before you're against it.

LIASSON: And when Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination to be vice president last night, he joined the chorus against McCain.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware, Vice Presidential Nominee): These times require more than a good soldier. They require a wise leader. A leader who can change, - change, the change that everybody knows we need. Barack Obama's going to deliver that change.

LIASSON: But mostly, Biden made the case for Obama, targeting it to a particular audience - white working-class families. He tied Obama to his own story, growing up as an Irish Catholic kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Barack and I took very different journeys to this destination, Biden said, but we share a common story.

Sen. BIDEN: When I look at my grandchildren, I know why I'm here. I'm here for their future; I'm here for everyone I grew up with in Scranton and Wilmington; I'm here for the cops and the firefighters, the teachers and the assembly line workers, the folks whose lives are the very measure of whether the American dream endures.

LIASSON: But now, Biden said, the American dream is slipping away. He told the convention how he takes the train home to Wilmington every day and imagines the kitchen table conversations in the houses he passes on the way.

Sen. BIDEN: Should mom move in with us now that dad's gone? Fifty, 60, 70 dollars just to fill up the gas tank. How in God's name with winter coming, how are we going to heat the home? Another year, no raise. Did you hear? Did you hear they may be cutting our health care at the company? Now - now we owe more money on our home than our home is worth. How in God's name are we going to send the kids to college? How are we going to retire, Joe?

You know, folks, that's the America that George Bush has left us, and that's the America we'll continue to get if George - excuse me - if John McCain is elected president of the United States of America. Freudian slip.

LIASSON: It was the first Biden gaffe of the fall campaign, but not one that any Democrat would regret. As soon as Biden was done, Obama himself made a surprise appearance on the stage.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): I just wanted to come out here for a little - little something to say.

LIASSON: Tomorrow, Barack Obama will have a lot to say when he delivers his acceptance speech in an outdoor stadium before as many as 80,000 delegates and ordinary supporters.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Denver.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear NPR's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention on many public radio stations and at NPR.org, where you'll also find analysis, profiles and blogs.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: October 1, 2008 at 11:12 AM CDT
The audio for this story incorrectly states that Barack Obama was nominated by a unanimous vote at the Democratic National Convention. In fact, he was nominated by acclamation.
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Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.