Mark Warner held up Virginia as a model for good government and warned a national audience during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that Sen. John McCain cannot be trusted to lead the nation to a prosperous future.
The U.S. Senate candidate recounted his rise in business and politics but largely steered clear of fiery rhetoric. Warner sought to frame the presidential race between McCain and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois as a contest that will decide whether the United States can make progress toward better technology, schools and respect around the world.
“Yes, the race for the future is on, and it won't be won if only some Americans are in the running,” Warner said during the address, which in past conventions had been used to showcase rising stars in the party. “It won't be won with yesterday's ideas and yesterday's divisions. And it won't be won with a president who is stuck in the past.”
Warner's speech again put the spotlight on Virginia's role in the presidential race. For decades, the state has been reliably Republican in such contests, but Obama is hopeful that he can win its 13 electoral votes this year by embracing many of the same themes that Warner and Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine have promoted.
Warner said Obama will be a president who “understands the world today” and will work to reverse what the popular former governor called the failed the policies of President Bush's administration.
“John McCain promises more of the same,” Warner said.
Warner's speech represented the next step in his efforts to raise his national profile and emerge as a leader who can help recast the political debate in Washington.
Warner stressed that the Democratic Party has to do a better job of reaching out to independents by showing that it can rise above partisanship.
He referred to his efforts as governor from 2002 to 2006 to work with moderate Republicans in the General Assembly to enact taxes to try to reverse Virginia's reputation for not spending enough on social services and education.
Although Warner took a few swipes at McCain and Bush, there were no hard-hitting attacks in the speech. Instead, he used lofty rhetoric to get voters to think about the future and whether they want a Democrat or Republican president at the helm of the nation's economic and social policies.
After a round of relatively tame convention speeches Monday, including Michelle Obama's well-received remarks about her husband, the cable news pundits spent Tuesday calling for a more aggressive approach against McCain, Bush and the GOP.
Warner “is going to have to pick up a fungo bat and hit John McCain with it,” CNN analyst Paul Begala said on the air Monday night, lamenting the lack of “red meat.”
In recent days, Warner had begun trying to manage expectations, saying he did not plan to be the Democratic attack dog.
He was true to his word Tuesday night.
“I told the Obama campaign early on, if they wanted a slash-and-burn contrasting speaker, that is not me,” Warner said.