DENVER (Reuters) - Barack Obama, about to take a historic step as the Democratic presidential nominee, promised on Thursday to reverse the economic failures of the last eight years, end the war in Iraq and restore America’s reputation.
“We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight,” Obama, the first black White House nominee of a major U.S. party, said in excerpts of his remarks prepared for delivery to the Democratic convention.
“On November 4th, we must stand up and say: ‘Eight is enough,’” he said.
Obama took direct aim at Republican rival John McCain and linked the veteran U.S. senator to the policies of President George W. Bush.
“The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are to restore that legacy,” he said.
Obama will give the biggest speech in a career filled with big speeches later on Thursday in Denver’s open-air football stadium before 75,000 supporters on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — a landmark in the U.S. civil rights movement.
The televised speech by Obama, who was formally nominated on Wednesday, gives the first-term Illinois senator his biggest national audience until he meets McCain in late September in the first of three face-to-face debates before the November 4 election.
Obama, an early opponent of the war in Iraq, promised to “end this war in Iraq responsibly” but said he would finish the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and would be willing to use U.S. military power when necessary.
“As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home,” Obama said.
“I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he said.
Obama is running even with McCain in most opinion polls, although a Gallup daily tracking poll on Thursday showed him beginning to get an edge from the convention and moving out to a 6-point advantage, up five points.
Obama addressed criticism that he has not offered enough specifics along with his sometimes soaring rhetoric, restating an ambitious domestic agenda that includes a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans and an end to dependence on Middle East oil in 10 years.
He said McCain’s emphasis on new offshore oil drilling was a stop-gap measure toward lowering oil prices and increasing U.S. energy production. He promised to invest $150 billion over the next decade to develop affordable, renewable energy sources.
While Obama’s policy proposals were not new, national conventions are often the first time voters pay attention to a presidential race. Opinion polls show many still unfamiliar with Obama and concerned about his readiness for the job.
McCain launched an advertisement on cable television in which he spoke directly to Obama through the camera.
“Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I wanted to stop and say, congratulations,” said McCain, who has been scathing in his criticism of Obama.
“How perfect that your nomination would come on this historic day. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at it. But tonight, Senator, job well done.”
McCain also tried to steal some of the spotlight with word that his vice presidential running mate is selected and will be unveiled, possibly on Thursday. The pick is scheduled to appear with McCain on Friday in Ohio.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who heightened speculation about his chances when he canceled appearances in Denver on Thursday, were among the top contenders.
Editing by David Wiessler