Four years ago another candidate for the Senate -of Illinois - used the keynote address to begin a rise in national politics expected to reach the Democratic nomination for president. Obama's campaign called Warner an innovative businessman and bipartisan leader in formally announcing his convention role Wednesday.
Placing Warner in the national spotlight could help boost his campaign in Virginia, where he is trying to win the Senate seat of retiring Republican John Warner. Obama is also campaigning hard in Virginia, a state that Republican George W. Bush won in the last two elections but one the Obama campaign thinks could turn to the Democrats.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival during the presidential primaries, is also scheduled to speak Aug. 26, the Tuesday night of the four-day convention in Denver. The theme for Democrats that evening centers on economic opportunity.
"Like Barack Obama, Mark Warner is not afraid to challenge the status quo to bring people together and get things moving," campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement. "It's that kind of spirit and innovation that resulted in his selection as keynote speaker on a night when we will be discussing how to renew America's promise."
Warner, a businessman who became wealthy from work and investments in the cellular telephone industry, ran an exploratory campaign for the 2008 presidential nomination early in the race. He surprised many Democrats when he ultimately decided against running, saying he didn't want to put the demands of a national run on his family. There was talk he might be a good running mate pick for Obama, but he removed himself from consideration, saying he would only pursue the Senate seat.
Some news reports had incorrectly said Clinton would be the keynote speaker - although the convention committee and campaign always described her as the Tuesday "headliner." Clinton and Obama advisers have been in delicate negotiations over her role at the convention, with some of her supporters calling for her name to be put in nomination because of her strong second-place showing.
Giving Warner the prime role could be viewed as a slight to some of those supporters as the Obama campaign is working to build unity going into the fall election. But Sam Arora, a former Clinton staffer who co-founded a group, VoteBoth.com, that encouraged Obama to pick Clinton as his running mate, said Warner was a good choice.
"Mark Warner is the future of the Democratic Party, and putting him on Tuesday night with Hillary Clinton is exactly right move for Obama," said Arora, who shut down the VoteBoth.com effort two weeks ago under the assumption that Clinton would not be picked. "They highlight Senator Obama's vision and leadership qualities."
A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a message for comment.
Obama's wife, Michelle, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be the featured first-night speakers at the convention. Michelle Obama will be introduced by her brother, Craig Robinson, a former basketball star at Princeton and now coach at Oregon State, on the first night, Aug. 25. Barack Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, also will have a role.
Other opening night speakers include Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, an early Obama supporter, organizers said Tuesday.
Opening night will also feature a tribute to Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has taped a five-minute video to air during the party gathering. Kennedy suffered a seizure at his Hyannisport, Mass., house on May 17 and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He underwent surgery and recently completed a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation.
The opening night theme is "One Nation." The Tuesday night theme is "Renewing America's Promise," while Wednesday's is "Securing America's Future," with an acceptance speech by Obama's still-unannounced vice presidential candidate.
The theme for Aug. 28, the night Obama formally accepts the nomination at the Denver Broncos' football stadium, is "Change You Can Believe In." Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter will be among speakers that night.