All week, the question among convention-goers had been: Will it work? Was the plan to host the final night of the Democratic convention in Mile High Stadium too audacious even for the candidate who defines audaciousness? No candidate had given an acceptance speech in a stadium since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Thursday night was pregnant with meaning, anticipation, and nervousness.
Doors opened for the stadium—also known as Invesco Field—at 1 PM, and while lines were relatively short for convention-goers with credentials, the more than 50,000 members of the public who attended the speech waited in lines up to half a mile long. An indication of the security pervading the night came at the metal detectors, which were staffed by officers from agencies as diverse as Secret Service, suburban-Denver police, the Colorado Department of Corrections, and the Transportation Security Administration. Helicopters circled overhead, and countersniper teams were visible on every stadium rooftop.
The only major problem with the night’s program was that there were hours and hours to fill with only a few key speakers, all in anticipation for Obama’s arrival and speech at 8 PM local time. Shortly after 3, the first band took the stage, followed by a random-seeming assortment of Congress members, governors, and grassroots supporters punctuated by performances by Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, and a joint performance by John Legend and Will.i.am of the iconic pro-Obama song “Yes We Can,” which defined the race back in February. The program stretched long enough in the hot Colorado sun that, in the row in front of me, one woman did needlepoint, a man read a poll briefing, and another worked away on his laptop. Lines for food, beer, and especially pricey bottled water—this was a stadium, after all—were long, although there was never a Dippin’ Dots line.
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There are loads of buttons available at the convention, but not many come in individually numbered, limited editions.
Perhaps the most coveted button of the 2008 convention in is a small green button with the number 300 interlaced with a picture of a pen. The button—whose theme comes from the hit movie 300, about the Spartans who defended Greece from the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae—is being worn by the 600 or so Hillary delegates who over recent weeks petitioned to force a full roll-call vote at today’s convention. When it looked as though the party might try to broker unity after the long, protracted primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by skipping the roll-call vote, they swung into action. Yesterday, when it seemed possible that the party would cut off the roll-call vote early, the 300 (who are actually more like 600) swung into action again.
The Republican convention next week in Minneapolis is supposed to be the pessimistic convention: President Bush has approval ratings stuck in the mid-20s, many of the top-tier Senate candidates are staying home either to campaign or to distance themselves from the party’s brand, and nearly everyone expects the Republicans to lose seats in Congress in November. So why is it that everything so far at the Democratic convention seems infused with just a hint of dread?
The first night’s speaking program, despite its emotional highlights from Ted Kennedy and the Obama children, is being seen as a waste of airtime, at least in terms of firing up voters and introducing Barack Obama to the country. Throughout the convention so far, there seems to be no overall governing narrative, little sense in the first two days that the party is doing what it must to narrow the knowledge gap about the Obamas: Who is Barack, this wunderkind who appeared to the nation just four years ago? What’s his background like? What are his values like? Can he connect with me? Can he feel my pain?
Meanwhile thousands of police from dozens of agencies wandered the streets—even the U.S. Coast Guard was visible on the street, though the closest body of water was the tiny brook that gives the name to the Denver neighborhood Cherry Creek. Heavily-armed SWAT teams rolled through town hanging on the outside of their SUVs and armored vehicles. Flights of helicopters circled overhead throughout the day while on the street police in riot gear wandered looking bored from one underwhelming protest to another. The warm dry day this meant that sidewalk cafes were full and many receptions and parties throughout the day spilled out onto the street, where teams of aggressively helpful and cheery convention and Denver volunteers sought any excuse to provide assistance to those navigating the downtown.
Much attention is paid at the convention to access — who has what credential to get into where, who has what invitation or hook-up to get into which party. Some of the most coveted documents around are complicated spreadsheets denoting hour-by-hour where the party is and who is taking RSVPs. There are only a couple of people at the convention who don’t require credentials to get into either the Pepsi Center or parties — Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and their wives. Pretty much everyone else has increasingly thick lanyards hanging from the neck.
One of the hottest credentials in Denver is turning out to be the All-Access pass to the CNN Grill, just inside the security perimeter next to the Pepsi Center.
DENVER—John McCain can’t win the November election. That’s not to say, of course, that Barack Obama can’t lose the November election. Make no mistake—Obama could still lose big. But for better or worse, this election isn’t about John McCain.
As we watch the dynamics of the election shape up and Democrats convene here in Denver to celebrate the nomination of a new type of presidential candidate—one who not only is the first African-American to head a national ticket but also represents a new generation of hope and change in a way that only a few transformational candidates in history have ever done—it’s clear that this election is Barack Obama’s to lose and that he might, against the odds, do just that.
This weekend saw a clear example of how he might go about it.
Conventions in modern-day are little more than the excuse to throw a party — or more accurately lots and lots of parties. Sunday night in Denver, even before the actual convention got under way at the Pepsi Center on Monday, the party scene was already in full force. Outside of the city at the Red Rocks amphitheater, global warming activists Laurie David led a green event for thousands, headlined by Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, and Sugarland. At the pre-reception, hosted by Dominion Power for delegates from Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, Western food was in abundance — bison sliders and venison sausage, along with baked beans, corn on the cob, and make-your-own s’mores.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt that he would absolutely not been allowed to wear had he been named the Democratic vice presidential nominee on Saturday, worked the reception. His Virginia state troopers mingled at the edge of the audience with the Pennsylvania troopers assigned to protect Ed Rendell, who was also greeting the members of his delegation. Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was a big hit with the crowd, although his smart suit made him look out of place with the casual audience.