SAN FRANCISCO — Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama and his former primary rival, Hillary Clinton, brought thousands of union members to their feet cheering Thursday with messages of Democratic solidarity and strength.
Clinton addressed the national convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in person, and Obama addressed the convention a short while later live via satellite from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"'Change' is a president who walked with you on that picket line, who doesn't choke when he says the word, 'union,' "... who doesn't denigrate public service by privatizing jobs every chance he gets," Obama told the crowd of about 6,000 delegates and more than 1,000 guests.
Of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Obama said their differences aren't personal but rather are about policy; while McCain has differed with his party at times in the past, he hasn't done so as a presidential candidate and so now offers only "four more years of Bush economic policies" which have hurt working families.
"That is not change," he said.
Clinton had received a hero's welcome about an hour earlier from the union which had endorsed her last October, and didn't seem at all wistful as she gazed out over a sea of green T-shirts, many emblazoned "AFSCME for Obama."
"You never let me down"... You were a relentless force for my campaign in state after state," she said. "You stood with me and I will always stand with you."
"The Bush Administration and its allies have led an unyielding, uncompromising, unrelenting campaign against our government," viewing it with "disdain, even with contempt" as part of a "narrow, radical ideology" aimed at diminishing it to the point that it "can't run a two-car parade," Clinton said.
"That's why I will work with all of you to ensure we have a Democratic victory in November," she vowed, praising her former rival's passion, determination, grace and wit. "When we finally have that Democratic president and a bigger Democratic majority in the Senate, we're going to get back to making our government more effective"... and once again be respected as a leader of the world."
McCain "is an honorable man who has served our country with honor and distinction, but he represents the same failed policies and we cannot take four more years of that," she said after noting "the entire world will breathe a sigh of relief when that moving van pulls away from the back of the White House" next January.
"Let's go win an election," she said, before departing to attend fund-raisers in San Francisco and Los Altos Hills aimed at retiring her more than $20 million in campaign debt.
Obama returned the praise about an hour after Clinton departed.
"For 16 months, she and I shared the stage as rivals and I couldn't be happier that we now share the stage as allies," he said.
He spoke of a cancer-stricken union activist from Chicago supported by her coworkers through tough times, and said tales like that speak to his "fundamental belief that we all have a stake in each other, that I am my brother's keeper."
"We don't have to wait for the history books to tell us the Bush Administration has been disastrous for working families," he said, saying he would help the nation rebound with a stimulus package aimed at families struggling with rising food and energy costs and $10 billion to help states and localities to maintain crucial public health care, housing and social services.
Health care reform will be high on his agenda, he vowed, just as it's on AFSCME's. "We will win that battle not 20 years from now, not 10 years from now, but by the end of my first term as President of the United States."
"If we put an end to the politics of division and distraction"... and unite this country around a common purpose, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome," Obama said, exhorting the union to lend its boots on the ground and voices on the phone to his campaign's cause. "We are less than 100 days away from the change we seek."
Obama plans a $2,300-a-head fund-raiser at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel on Sunday, Aug. 17 — a stop his campaign reportedly said could be his last in the Democratic stronghold before November's election.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday found Obama leading McCain 50 percent to 30 percent in the state; the telephone survey of 1,401 likely voters was conducted July 8 through 22 and had a three-point margin of error.