DENVER — On a historic day when Democrats nominated Barack Obama, the first African-American ever chosen by a major party for the presidency, his ticket mate, Joe Biden, on Wednesday launched the new partnership's attack on John McCain by insisting that America needs more than a decorated military veteran as its leader.
"These times require more than a good soldier — they require a wise leader," Biden said.
The freshly minted vice presidential nominee, who's served in the Senate with presumptive Republican presidential nominee McCain for 21 years, provided a rousing kickoff to the campaign, and when he finished, a beaming Obama joined him at the podium.
"The convention's gone pretty well so far," Obama said to loud cheers as blue Obama-Biden signs bobbed up and down.
The candidate, appearing in the hall for the first time, looked forward to Thursday, when he will deliver his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium before an estimated 70,000 people.
Otherwise, Wednesday was Biden's night.
The 65-year-old veteran Delaware senator was introduced by his son Beau, who recalled the auto accident that killed his mother and sister shortly after Joe Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972.
"One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, my dad always at our side," the son recalled. "My brother and I, not the Senate, were all he cared about. He said that Delaware can get another senator. My boys can't get another father."
Then dad appeared, hugged his son heartily, and began his speech with his eyes watering.
Biden called himself a product of a family in which "we learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they try." McCain is the son and grandson of four-star admirals.
Biden also portrayed McCain and President Bush as loyal allies.
"As we gather here tonight, our country is less secure and more isolated than at any time in recent history," Biden said. "The Bush-McCain foreign policy has dug us into a very deep hole, with very few friends to help us climb out."
Biden said he'd be a vice president people liked or at least respected, a jab at Vice President Dick Cheney. "No longer will the eight most dreaded words in the English language be, `The vice president's office is on the phone,' '' he said as the crowd roared.
Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also challenged McCain's judgment on Iraq.
"Should we trust John McCain's judgment when he says there can be no timelines to draw down our troops from Iraq — that we must stay indefinitely?" Biden asked. "Or should we listen to Barack Obama, who says shift responsibility to the Iraqis — and set a time to bring our combat troops home?
"Now, after six long years, the administration and the Iraqi government are on the verge of setting a date to bring our troops home. John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right."
Biden clearly relished his role as both healer and dispenser of red meat. He's been a popular choice here, praised warmly by supporters of Obama and his vanquished rival, Hillary Clinton.
"I'm very content with Biden," said Dean Boerste, a Clinton delegate from Tell City, Ind. "He's done a lot for working-class people, and he has a lot of great foreign-policy experience."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., summed up the mood: "Biden covers a lot of bases," he said.
Obama officially became the Democratic nominee at 4:48 p.m. MDT, when Clinton moved to suspend the roll call of the states and nominate Obama by acclamation.
"In the spirit of unity, with the goal of victory," she said, as the roar of the crowd began to swell, "let's declare together, with one voice, right here, right now, Barack Obama is our candidate and he will be our president."
Hours later, former President Bill Clinton, a frequent Obama critic and skeptic, warmed up the flag-waving crowd, saying that he strongly seconded his wife's rousing endorsement of Obama Tuesday night.
"Everything I learned in my eight years as president, and in the work I've done since," he said, "has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for the job."
He recalled taking office in 1993 as a 46-year-old former governor of Arkansas.
"Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be commander in chief," he said with a little smile. "Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history.
"And it won't work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."
His address added to the feeling that Wednesday, the third day of the Democratic National Convention, was largely a time for the party to heal.
The party promoted the idea that a new team was carrying the Democratic banner, with Biden, the veteran Senate debater who's twice run for president himself, preparing to launch verbal grenades at Republicans.
He's had lots of practice.
He chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995. In that post he infuriated Republicans in 1987 when the Senate rejected Reagan nominee Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. He briefly riled feminists four years later by being slow to understand the importance of Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges against high court nominee Clarence Thomas. Thomas eventually was confirmed.
More recently, Biden has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has gained wide respect for his expertise and personal engagement in world affairs. He worked closely with his Republican counterpart, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, to make the panel influential in forging U.S. foreign policy.
"The party was already coming together," Levin said. "This will help speed up and strengthen that process."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
McClatchy Newspapers 2008