All About Hillary

Hillary Clinton did all she could last night to convince her hold-out voters to back Barack Obama as she also gave Democrats reason to wonder at what might have been.

In a masterful and multi-tasking convention speech, Clinton achieved two, apparently contradictory goals: boosting the political standing of her chief rival in the party, while also enhancing her own.

Delivering a prime-time home run, she touched all the bases, as she honored her own constituency, made a strong case to them on Obama's behalf, landed some blows against Republican John McCain and left the stage a more powerful political force than when she entered.

Amid widespread reports of lingering antagonism between her camp and Obama's - and with polls showing more than one-third of her primary season voters do not back him - Clinton wasted no time in giving him an unconditional declaration of support and in urging her followers to do exactly the same.

"I'm here as a proud mother, as a proud Democrat, a proud Senator from New York, a proud American and a proud supporter of Barack Obama," she began. "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 purpose:

"We are on the same team and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future and it is a fight we must win together," she added. "I haven't spent the last 35 years fighting in the trenches:to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise."

More than any previous prime time convention speaker, Clinton also took on McCain, drawing sharp contrasts between his views and those of the Democrats. She tied him directly to the unpopular President Bush, saying it was appropriate that next week's Republican convention will be held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: "It makes perfect 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."

At one point she said, "we don't need another four years of the last eight years," and also offered this pithy summation: "No way, no how, no McCain."

Beyond that, it was all about Hillary.

She reprised most of the themes and language of her stump speech from the primaries, but did so in a far more energetic voice and animated style than of that failed campaign. As she spoke emotionally about people who are hurting that she met on the trail, and ticked off her policy prescriptions for helping them, it was easy to imagine she was speaking as the party's nominee, not the runner-up. As she built momentum, she would regularly refrain her support for Obama, but almost as an afterthought, to remind her backers of their responsibility to vote for the party's nominee.

"Those are the reasons I ran for president," she said, "and those are the reasons I support Barack Obama for president."

As a practical matter, Clinton did her duty to her party and its nominee. As a political matter, her strong performance also reopened, not only the question of why Obama didn't pick her for vice president, but also of whether the Democrats would have been better off with her as the nominee.

Who thought he was a good idea?

In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address to the Democratic convention, a stunning, dreamweaving rhetorical set piece that carried him in just four years to the presidential nomination of his party.

Don't look for Mark Warner to repeat the feat.

The former governor of Virginia, Warner gave a keynote speech last night that was cerebral and flat, and seemed more likely to advance his home state campaign for the Senate than Obama's for the presidency.

The traditional job of a keynote speaker is to get delegates off their butts, fired up and ready to fight for their candidate and their cause. By that measure, Warner laid an egg; a politician who has built a reputation for bipartisanship stuck to his centrist script last night, avoiding any but the most tepid slaps at John McCain and the Republicans.

To his credit, Warner delivered a forward-looking address that cast the election as "a race for the future" and the choice facing voters as "between the past and the future." Grazing lightly on the notion that the American economy must be restructured to align with the demands of global competition, Warner made mandatory mentions of global warming, alternative energy and hybrid cars; but his policy ideas were vague, and he never closed the circle to explain specifically why Obama would be a better pick to lead the nation in such an economic rebuild than McCain.

His best line: "In just four months we will have an administration that believes in science." But rather than building on it by making the case of how Bush-McCain Republicans have put ideology over fact in shaping policies, he quickly retreated from the statement, to deliver another paen to bipartisanship.

"We need leaders who see common ground as sacred ground," he said. Zzzzz.

Having made his fortune in the cell phone business, Warner offered some business advice to the delegates: "If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition it wouldn't last very long."

In presidential elections, however, that strategy seems to be doing all right for Republicans.

Brian in the bolo tie

The guy they should have picked to do the keynote was Brian Schweitzer, the somewhat disheveled governor of Montana.

With bolo tie loosened to his sternum and the top of his shirt unbuttoned, as if he'd been having a few pops before hitting the podium, Schweitzer has the wide-body build of a plumber and the comic timing of a born wiseass. In other words, he looks and sounds like a normal person, in contrast to the Robo-pol Warner.

As the warm up act to Hillary, Schweitzer had the crowd, including Bill Clinton, on its feet, improbably energizing them with a speech about renewable energy, of all things, a fast-paced, funny riff that bashed the oil and gas industry, "petro dictators," and Republicans alike.

Mocking McCain's pro-drilling energy policy, not to mention his memory about real estate, Schweitzer said, "if you drilled in all of John McCain backyards, even the ones he doesn't know he has, that proposition is a big dry hole."

Let's face it, the party conventions are first and foremost TV shows, so it wouldn't hurt either one to loosen up a little and give some serious face time to the rare pol who's actually entertaining. You rock, Brian.

Props to Keystone guv

Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, who leads perhaps the most crucial battleground state the election, told the convention that "Barack Obama is one of us," the latest effort by Democrats to make the party's nominee more palatable to blue collar voters.

Speeches to date have been remarkably free of passionate attacks on John McCain, but Casey finally opened the door, bashing "Bush Cheney McCain" for "hammering the hard working people" of Pennsylvania.

"Now they're asking for four more years - how about four more months?" he said, repeating the refrain as the crowd picked up the chant: "Four more months, four more months!"

Casey also got off the best line of the night so far, when he mocked McCain for portraying himself as a "maverick" while voting with the Bush administration 90 percent of the time.

"That's not a maverick - that's a sidekick," he said.

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