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Obama launches historic campaign



By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Denver

Barack Obama before his speech in Denver, 28/08
Mr Obama concentrated on attacking his Republican rival, John McCain

As a piece of political theatre, it was undeniably powerful. The choice of the Denver Broncos stadium as the venue for Barack Obama's acceptance speech ensured that the visuals would be impressive.

The huge crowd, the raised circular stage, the columns behind him. The streamers and fireworks shooting through the air. All of it was designed for the history books.

But the speech itself, though filled with some powerful moments, did not always soar to the rhetorical heights for which the senator is known.

Instead, he chose to use it to lay out some specific policy pledges and to launch a focused attack on his Republican opponent, John McCain.

His Kenyan father was barely mentioned. Instead, he spoke about his Kansas grandparents

He portrayed him as a man of the past, a Washington insider who has had his time in power - plenty of it - but wasted it.

And, drawing on some of the McCain campaign's recent statements about the current economic situation, he attacked him for being out of touch with the struggles being faced by ordinary Americans.

"It's not because John McCain doesn't care - it's because John McCain doesn't get it," he said.

Picking up one of the themes of the convention, he linked Mr McCain to President George W Bush, pointing out that, despite his reputation for being a maverick who could appeal to those all-important independent voters, the Arizona senator had actually supported the current president on most issues.

And, while he did not make any specific references to John McCain's age - he could not do - there was a subtle thread going through the speech, a suggestion that his opponent was a man of the past, while he was a man of the future.

Stump speech

As for his policy pledges, one of the most eye-catching was a promise to cut taxes for 95% of working families.

The crowd roared at that point. This was the Democratic candidate trying to reclaim the popular, tax-cutting mantle from the Republican Party.

He also called for ending US dependency on foreign oil within 10 years.

There were personal moments as well - although perhaps not as many as might have been expected from a candidate whose mixed-race background and unusual name still makes him seem exotic to many Americans.

After his wife, Michelle, spoke to the conference on Monday, Mr Obama used parts of his speech to reinforce the message that his background is, in fact, a typical American one.

His Kenyan father was barely mentioned. Instead, he spoke about his Kansas grandparents: his grandfather who served in General Patton's army and his grandmother, who had struggled against sexual discrimination at the workplace.

Those stories formed the basis for his retort to John McCain's recent advert, portraying Obama as an out-of-touch celebrity

"I don't know what sort of lives John McCain thinks celebrities lead - but this has been mine."

Apart from his relatives, there were several other references to ordinary Americans he had met on the campaign trail, in what seemed at times more like a stump speech than a one-off moment for the history books.

But, then, perhaps that was the point. As his ecstatic supporters in the crowd waved signs saying "change", it seemed Mr Obama had decided to answer two lines of criticism: that there is little substance to his slogans and that he has not been effective in attacking John McCain.

He certainly was on Thursday night, but perhaps at the expense of giving a speech that will be remembered as one of his finest.

If it helps him win the battle for the White House, though, he probably will not shed too many tears.


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