JIM LEHRER: Now we to go a preview of tonight’s keynote address. Four years ago, Barack Obama had that role at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and his performance propelled him to national prominence and he won a seat in the United States Senate.
Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner takes that podium tonight. He, too, is running for the Senate to replace retiring five-term Republican John Warner, not related to Mark Warner.
Judy Woodruff spoke to Mark Warner at his Denver hotel yesterday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Mark Warner, thank you very much for talking with us, candidate for the United States Senate in the state of Virginia, the keynote speaker Tuesday night at the convention. Any butterflies? How much pressure are you feeling?
FORMER GOV. MARK WARNER (D), Virginia: Yes, this will be the biggest speech I’ve ever given. And, obviously, the bar was set pretty high four years ago by Senator Obama.
But, you know, I’ve got a story I want to tell, not only of how we got in Virginia Democrats and Republicans to work together, and how we didn’t forget about our rural communities, but the fact that this election really is, I believe, at one of those historical inflexion points for our country where we are going to either turn the page or not and take on the challenges of this century.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you want to do with this speech? What do you want to leave these delegates and, most important, the television viewing audience?
MARK WARNER: Well, I’d like to leave the viewers with the sense that this election really is future versus past. It really is not a normal left-right, liberal-conservative, red-blue, as much as that’s the way we like to talk about elections, and that, if we’re going to get our country on the right path, it’s going to take a bipartisan cooperation.
Now, that may not go over too well in a hall full of 18,000 partisan Democrats, but it’s absolutely what I believe, and that if we’re going to give folks the — turn these challenges that the country faces into opportunities, we also can’t leave behind wide swaths of our country.
And I would argue that both political parties have left behind a lot of rural America for the last 30 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, are these going to be the words of Mark Warner or the words of the Obama campaign?
MARK WARNER: No, these are absolutely the words of Mark Warner. I’ve been, you know, very pleasantly surprised that, other than a word here or there that nine times out of ten improved the speech, they have not tried to say, “Hey, these are the phrases. This is the message.”
I think they knew that if they wanted somebody that was going to be all about contrast or all about bashing the president or Senator McCain that I wasn’t going to be their guy.
There are clearly places where I’ll draw a contrast. But this is hopefully a much more forward-looking speech, a much more “how do we get our country on the right path” than simply contrast.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you’re the keynoter. There is also Tuesday night another fairly prominent Democrat who’s going to be making a speech, Senator Hillary Clinton. Any fear you’re going to be eclipsed by her?
MARK WARNER: Well, listen, there’s an enormous focus on Senator Clinton, as there should be. I mean, she ran an incredible campaign, millions of Americans lives she touched. So I absolutely expect that most of the press coverage will probably focus on Senator Clinton.
But my hope is that I can lay out our case. I can lay out where I hope the campaign goes and, more importantly, what this election is about. I think Senator Clinton, I’m sure, will use her opportunity over the next couple of days to bring this party back together, because the stakes are just too high to do otherwise.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Talk about your state of Virginia. What realistically are Senator Obama’s chances there? The last time a Democrat won Virginia for president, 1964, Lyndon Johnson.
MARK WARNER: Yes, 44 years, it’s a long time. But Virginia truly is in play. There’s enormous energy from the Obama campaign, 200,000 new voters.
And one of the challenges is those voters in those rural communities, in southern Virginia, in southwest Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. And these were the same voters, while they’re in many ways my strongest supporters now as I run for the Senate, because it wasn’t just kind of a drive-by. We actually invested time, put in broadband, moved information technology jobs, focused our education reform efforts there.
Senator Obama has got to do the same. I mean, this is — I’ve got to convince folks there to give him a chance. He’s got to close the deal. But he’s got to — I’ve got to get folks to give him a chance.
Don’t believe all of the innuendo and misstatements and the things that come out over the Internet. This is a man who’s lived his own version of the American dream and wants to make sure that that fair shot is available for everybody.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, to that point, the polls are showing that a number of Democrats say they’re still not sold on Senator Obama, whether — it’s not clear whether — to what extent it’s race, to what extent they perceive it’s inexperience, or something else. What does he need to do this week to get over that?
MARK WARNER: Well, I think a lot of Americans, while this campaign seems like it’s gone on forever, particularly for those of us kind of in the field, I think for most Americans it’s just been kind of noise. I think they’re going to start to tune in now with the conventions and then say, “OK, we’ve heard the rhetoric. Which of these two gentlemen are going to actually have the policies to help my life?”
“Which of the two are going to help my kid afford the resources to go to college, or find a way to have an energy policy that actually lowers gas prices, or deals with the concern about whether, you know, in the small towns that somebody’s got to leave their hometown to find a world-class job?”
And I think if voters can get to that point, and then the Obama campaign’s challenge is to move from a message of hope to hope combined with a focus on real results, I think you’ll be successful.
I think Senator Biden’s selection helps in that manner, clearly shoring up on foreign policy, clearly somebody who’s got a history of connecting with what are viewed as more traditional, you know, blue-collar voters, and somebody who can draw the contrast with Senator McCain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you most worried about this week? Is it whether the party comes out of here looking, feeling united?
MARK WARNER: Well, I think I have a concern about the party being united, but I think the stakes are just too high. I would be shocked if, come Friday, this is not a party where everybody realizes, you know, we’ve got a major challenge, a major choice in front of us.
You know, and my hope is that Senator Obama’s campaign will continue to realize that, while perhaps he hasn’t closed the deal with everybody, I’m not sure that a lot of these folks, whether they’re Democrats, independents, or an awful lot of disaffected Republicans who want to turn the page, as well, I don’t believe they’ve been sold on John McCain, as well.
So I think this is a very open election in Virginia. It’s going to be a very tight race. We always knew that. But it’s going to be an exciting sprint from Labor Day.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Warner, than you very much for talking with us. We appreciate it.
MARK WARNER: Thank you, Judy.