DENVER - With a forceful and gracious Hillary Rodham Clinton setting the tone, the Democratic Party on Tuesday night called for unity behind Barack Obama and escalated its verbal assault against Republican John McCain.
The unequivocal call to come together was sounded by the New York senator, who ran the most successful presidential campaign ever by a woman and whose most devoted supporters have had trouble accepting that she came up just short.
“My friends, it is time to take back the country we love,” Clinton declared, urging her voters to join her as a “proud” Obama supporter. “And whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party, with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can sit on the sidelines.”
And lest anyone not get the point, she added: “No way. No how. No McCain.”
The crowd at the Pepsi Center, which had erupted in a thunderous, 2 ½-minute ovation when daughter Chelsea introduced her as the evening’s headliner, roared its approval.
Clinton thanked her loyalists, including “my sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits,” praised Michelle Obama and vice presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr., and cited at length the positions she and Barack Obama share.
And she joined in the McCain-bashing that had characterized most of the evening.
“It makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities,” she said of the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., “because these days, they’re pretty hard to tell apart.”
Clinton’s enthusiastic endorsement of Obama was the highlight of a night in Denver that differed markedly from the first - which some analysts had criticized as too weak and amorphous.
The attacks on McCain, missing on Monday, came from every quarter, including from the normally mild-mannered Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Casey, in a prime-time speech, said the Republicans deserve “not four more years. Four more months.” The crowd picked up the chant, “Four more months!”
And he declared: “John McCain calls himself a maverick, but he votes with George Bush 90 percent of the time. That’s not a maverick. That’s a sidekick.”
Speaker after speaker drew the choice in this election in stark terms, labeling Obama as the voice of the middle class and change - and McCain as the candidate of big business and the status quo.
“If he’s the answer, then the question must be ridiculous,” New York Gov. David Paterson said of the Republican.
Said Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: “While families are losing sleep tonight trying to figure out some way to make their paycheck stretch through one more day, John McCain is sleeping better than ever ... because he thinks ‘Americans, overall, are better off’ ... thanks to President Bush.”
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius took on McCain’s multiple homes and his inability, when asked, to remember how many he and his wife owned.
“I’m sure you remember a girl from Kansas who said, ‘There’s no place like home,’ ” said Sebelius, referring to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” “Well, in John McCain’s version, there’s no place like home. And a home. And home. And home.”
Obama, appearing at a town-hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo., also talked economics, albeit slightly less stridently.
“Over the last eight years, your lives are less secure. Those are the facts, and John McCain is not promising to do anything different than George Bush did,” Obama said.
The exception to the tone of the day came, oddly, in a future-oriented keynote speech by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.
“I know we’re at the Democratic National Convention, but if an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to it,” he said.
Before Tuesday night’s session, several of the strategists behind Bill Clinton’s two election victories, James Carville among them, had criticized the early tone of the convention as not being tough enough on the Republicans.
They appeared to be speaking for party leaders who wonder whether Obama’s reluctance ever to look fighting mad helps explain why downscale white Democrats have been slow to warm to him - and why the polls are so tight, nationally and in the key states.
“We’ve got to start smacking back in short understandable bites,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told The Washington Post. “Everybody is nervous as all get out. Everybody says we ought to be ahead by 10, 15 points. What the heck is going on?”
Obama’s obvious personal gifts, the Pennsylvania governor added, make him “not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with.”
The Republicans, for their part, were offering a clear message in a tough tone, one meant to feed public doubts that Obama does not have enough experience to be president.
Overnight, the McCain campaign put out a new ad, one recalling the famous ad Clinton used against Obama in the primaries, asking who Americans would want answering a 3 a.m. crisis phone call in the White House.
It quotes a remark Clinton made when she, too, was trying to raise the experience issue and was suggesting she’d be the better opponent for McCain.
“I know Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House,” she says in a video clip used in McCain’s ad. “And Sen. Obama has a speech he gave in 2002,” referring to Obama’s early declaration of his opposition to war with Iraq.
Later Tuesday, party leaders including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible McCain running mate, reinforced the message at a news conference here under the title: “Not Ready ‘08: A Mile High and an Inch Deep.”
Said Romney: “Barack Obama is a charming and fine person with a lovely family. But he’s not ready to be president of the United States of America.”
Wednesday brings the presidential and vice presidential roll calls, the formal nominations of Obama and Biden, and Biden’s acceptance speech.