Surrounded by an enormous, adoring crowd, Barack Obama promised a clean break from the “broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush” Thursday night as he embarked on the final lap of his audacious bid to become the nation's first black president.
“America, now is not the time for small plans,” the 47-year-old Illinois senator told an estimated 84,000 people packed into the Denver Broncos' Invesco Field.
He vowed to cut taxes for nearly all working-class families, end the war in Iraq and break America's dependence on Mideast oil within a decade.
Obama criticized his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, by linking him to Bush.
“John McCain has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time,” he said. “Sen. McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?”
Campaigning as an advocate of a new kind of politics, he suggested at least some common ground was possible on abortion, gun control, immigration and gay marriage.
He pledged to jettison Bush's economic policy – and replace it with his own designed to help hard-pressed families.
“I will cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class,” he said.
The 44-minute speech didn't mention it, but Obama has called for raising taxes on upper-income Americans to help pay for expanded health care and other domestic programs.
He did not say precisely what he meant by breaking the country's dependence on Mideast oil, only that Washington has been talking about doing it for 30 years “and John McCain has been there for 26 of them.”
His pledge to end the war in Iraq responsibly was straight from his daily campaign speeches.
“I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he added.
As he does so often while campaigning, Obama also paid tribute to McCain's heroism – the 72-year-old Arizona senator was a prisoner of war in Vietnam – then assailed him and his ties to the Bush administration.
“It's time for them to own their failure,” Obama said. “It's time for us to change America.”
Hearkening to history
On a night 45 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Obama made no overt mention of his own race.
“I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree” of a presidential candidate, was as close as he came to the long-smoldering issue that may well determine the outcome of the election.
Obama's aides were interested in a different historical parallel from King – Obama was the first to deliver an outdoor convention acceptance speech since John F. Kennedy at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960.
The much-discussed stage built for the program was evocative of the West Wing at the White House, with 24 American flags serving as a backdrop. A blue carpeted runway jutted out toward the infield, and convention delegates ringed the podium. Thousands more sat in stands around the rim of the field.
The wrap-up to the party convention blended old-fashioned speechmaking, Hollywood-quality stagecraft and innovative, Internet age politics.
The list of entertainers ran to Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder and will.i.am, whose Web video built around Obama's “Yes, we can” rallying cry quickly went viral during last winter's primaries.
Working the phones
In a novel bid to extend the convention's reach, Obama's campaign decided to turn tens of thousands of partisans in the stands into instant political organizers.
They were encouraged to use their cell phones to send text messages to friends, as well as to call thousands of unregistered voters from lists developed by the campaign.
In all, Obama's high command said it had identified 55 million unregistered voters across the country, about 8.1million of them black, about 8 million Hispanic and 7.5 million between the ages of 18 and 24.
Those are key target groups for Obama as he bids to break into the all-white line of U.S. presidents and at the same time restore Democrats to the White House for the first time in eight years.
A rival's congratulations
McCain was in Ohio as Obama spoke, and after a series of sharply negative convention-week television commercials, his campaign aired a one-night advertisement that complimented Obama and noted the speech occurred on the anniversary of King's famous address.
“Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America. Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, ‘Congratulations,'” McCain says in the ad.
“How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we'll be back at it. But tonight, Senator, job well done.”