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Democrats Open Convention With Calls for Party Unity

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Democrats have launched their presidential nominating convention, portraying their candidate Barack Obama as a man of faith and American values.  Party leaders are hoping the gathering will inspire unity and heal wounds from a contentious primary season.  VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel has details from the convention being held in Denver, Colorado.

Democratic delegates erupted on the floor of their convention as the candidate's wife, Michelle Obama, arrived.

Her goal on the opening night of the convention was to give millions of Americans watching on television an opportunity to meet a family that, for many, is largely unknown.

"I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president," she said.

Democrats hope Barack Obama will make history as the first African-American president of the United States.

Michele Obama says she and her husband come from similar working-class backgrounds and were raised with the same values of hard work and treating people with dignity and respect.

"Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and pass them on to the next generation," she said.  "Because we want our children and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."

Senator Obama is not in Denver, but made an appearance via satellite to greet the delegates and say hello to his two daughters and congratulate his wife on her speech.

"Now you know why I asked her out so many times even though she said 'no,'" he said.  "You want a persistent president."

An emotional highlight to the convention's first night was a tribute to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, an early Obama supporter who was diagnosed several months ago with brain cancer.

The senator is the last surviving brother of the late President John F. Kennedy and a Democratic Party icon who has served more than four decades in the U.S. Congress.

He told the cheering delegates the time has come to pass the torch of leadership to a new generation.

"I have come here tonight to stand with you, to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States," he said.

In addition to introducing Obama, another critical task for the Democrats is to unite their party after a marathon primary season between him and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Polls show a significant number of Clinton supporters, still upset that she lost the nomination and was not selected as Obama's running mate, may vote for Republican candidate John McCain in November.

Senator Clinton is urging her supporters to back Obama and will address the convention on Tuesday.

Clinton delegate Joe Ellen Litz still has a strong emotional attachment to her candidate, but says she will vote for Obama in the November election.

"What he can do is be, wow, open and honest and I guess I would like to use the word sensitive to the feelings of all of the people who supported Hillary," she said.

The Democrats will formally nominate Obama Thursday and he is scheduled to accept during a speech to at least 75,000 people at an outdoor sports stadium.

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