You could just tell that in between the time that he was selected as the keynote and when he actually gave the speech that Mark Warner was a man on cloud nine. However, the consensus seems to be that he took a pretty big fall off that cloud last night.
Before I comment on the quality of his speech, it’s important to note what a keynote should be. There’s a couple of different strategies with choosing a keynote, but generally the party tries to pick someone who can wholly encapsulate what it means to be a Democrat at that time, someone who the party thinks they can show off without isolating one particular wing or the other, a fresh face. Barbara Jordan and Barack Obama set the standard for the sort of transcendent moment that the keynote can and should be, sort of a rising tide to carry the party to its nominee.
Warner was anything but transcendent. He had an opportunity to fully highlight “the Virginia Story” (I know, I know, it’s based on a fraud, but stick with me here), but instead he went right for the jugular and accused Republicans of being stuck in the past. He somehow managed to ignore the work of Newt Gingrich and Chris Saxman, the sort of politicians that embrace conservative positions while seeking pragmatic solutions. He then tried to go back to the Virginia story, but somehow his tale of working with Republicans managed to fall flat after he so viscerally derided them. It seems that the only good Republicans are the ones who can be bamboozled into going along with big-government.
All in all, Warner just didn’t carry the moment. It’s pretty bad when you’re outshined by the guy after you. Montana Governor Schweitzer gave an Ann Richards style speech–attack but look to what makes you a Democrat. It was a little too red meat for my tastes (what did you expect on a Republican blog), but he definitely did the job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy, not easy when you’re crowd has been standing around for the last six hours. Warner tried it (always risky for a keynote, but it launched Richards to the Gov mansion), but it just fell flat, particularly with the sort of profile he has as a consensus builder
Probably the biggest mistake that Warner made, though, was laying into McCain with such (attempted) gusto. We’ve all heard anectdotes of those vaunted McCain-Warner voters. What are these moderate types going to think of Warner taking such an attack dog role at the convention. They may not vote for Jim Gilmore, but you can bet that Jim Gilmore is going to let this be known. This ties in perfectly with Gilmore’s attack that Warner lied his way to a budget deal.
Some thoughts from other sources. First, Newsweek:
Warner may have hit the right notes tonight–but he did so with little authority, agility or verve. It was partly his reliance on halfhearted speechwriting devices that disappointed. Under Bush, he said, a “fair shot” has become a “long shot”; under the Dems, a “fair shot” could become a “shot in the arm.”It was partly his overuse of threadbare cliches, from “you ain’t seen nothing yet” to “it’s not where you came from that counts, it’s where you want to go.” It was partly his willingness to recite rote Democratic platitudes–“cover everyone,” “restore America’s leadership,” “get off foreign oil,” “recruit an army of new teachers”–without any memorable specifics. And it was partly the fact that Warner’s own biography–start one business, start another, make hundreds of millions in the cellular industry–is neither a moving tale of triumph over adversity nor a he’s-like-us homily.
Took the podium with the apparent hope of recreating the star-making keynote event of 2004, when Obama, in the same Tuesday night timeslot, launched his political career into the presidential stratosphere. Mmmmm, no. Warner’s success as a cell phone magnate cannot quite compare to Obama’s story, and his accomplishments in Virginia were awkwardly presented. He lost the audience early and never got them back.
With these sorts of reviews, it seems that Obama may remain the only Dem Keynoter to secure the nomination in the last 40 years. (Although Warner can join the ranks of Bayh and Askew).
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