Warner getting ready for moment in national spotlight

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Don’t try to tell Mark Warner what to say. And by all means, don’t expect him to be all that cheery when you send a car for him at 5 in the morning.

“One more career I probably have to cross off my list is early-morning TV or radio-show host. I got up and did ‘Morning Joe’ this morning, and the car picked me up at 5,” said Warner from Denver, where the former governor is set to deliver the keynote address tomorrow evening at the Democratic National Convention.

The U.S. Senate nominee has been in town since the weekend, and he said there is “great energy and enthusiasm” in the air in Denver as Democrats assemble to formalize the nomination of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as their party’s presidential and vice-presidential nominees. There’s also a good bit of buzz surrounding Warner’s keynote address on the heels of Obama playing a similar role in the Democratic convention four years ago.

“The bar has been set pretty high. I mean, Barack Obama’s speech four years ago is probably the best keynote in modern political history, Democrat or Republican. I can’t remember before that speech as much focus on it,” Warner told reporters on a conference call this afternoon.

“I think I’ve got some good material. It may not be the soaring rhetoric of Sen. Obama, but it is a challenge and also an opportunity,” Warner said.

The challenge comes in the form of deciding just how to present Warner’s message of fiscal conservatism and political centrism to a convention setting that is much more left-leaning than the mainstream of the party and the electorate as a whole. Warner said he has been working with Democratic speech-coach guru Michael Sheehan on his speech
“I’d say we’re about 98 percent of the way there,” Warner said of the work to get the speech to paper.

“In terms of the substance of the remarks, I told the Obama campaign early on that if they wanted a slash-and-burn contrasting speaker, that’s not me, somebody else would be better suited for that. We’ve had a few back-and-forths over a word choice here or there, but I’ve actually been very pleasantly surprised that they have not tried to influence more of the speech,” said Warner, who told reporters on the call that Sheehan told him after a session on his speech that “this is a real Mark Warner speech.” “Now, for those of you who have heard lots of Mark Warner speeches, that may be a mixed blessing,” Warner joked.

“I feel very good going into tomorrow night that it’s what I want to say,” Warner said.

The opportunity, for Warner, is clear. “It’s a real chance for Virginia to shine, to talk about how we could actually get Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues, how we didn’t leave behind particularly parts of Southside and Southwest Virginia that I think could be a model for the rest of the country. And how this election really is about the future. It doesn’t fall so much along the normal political red-blue, left-right as much as the national folks would like to make it,” Warner said.

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