The opening act for the Hillary show

Mark Warner and Brian Schweitzer take different approaches to warming up the DNC crowd for the night's main event.

Published August 27, 2008 2:55AM (EDT)

DENVER -- The headliner tonight was definitely Hillary Clinton. Organizers at the Democratic convention tried their best to warm the crowd up before she showed up, but they didn't really build the energy in the Pepsi Center until just before she spoke.

The keynote speech, by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (who's also likely to be the state's new junior senator next year), had a little more red meat for a partisan crowd than aides had hinted at ahead of time. "The race for the future is on," Warner said, in a speech that mixed typical New Democrat bipartisan slogans with some exhortations for change we can believe in. "It won't be won with yesterday's ideas and yesterday's divisions. And it won't be won with a president who is stuck in the past." But Warner didn't quite seem to captivate the audience in the hall, though he did try to drive a message that linked John McCain to George Bush and pitched Barack Obama as the only alternative. He seemed torn between attacking McCain and talking up his own pragmatic record in Virginia; the contrast with the Bush administration was more implicit than explicit at times.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, on the other hand, revved the crowd up to a frenzy in the speech right before Clinton's. It was an upper Plains version of call-and-response. "Can we afford four more years of the same?" Schweitzer asked. "No!" the crowd roared. "Is the time for change now?" "Yes!" "Are we going to declare our energy independence and change the world? Who's going to lead us there as the next president of the United States? Now let's go win this election," Schweitzer yelled, exhorting people to stand up from their seats.

He walked off the stage to a huge ovation, then the lights dimmed and Chelsea Clinton's voice came on in a film about her mother.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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