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Democratic Convention diary

BBC Convention bloggers


Democratic Party super-delegate Connie Borde joins the BBC's Max Deveson and Jennifer Copestake to report on the drama, tension and razzmatazz of this week's Democratic Convention.

CONNIE BORDE: LONG-AWAITED LOVEFEST

26 August: 0150 local time (0750 GMT)

Michelle Obama gave her husband a loving sendoff for his presidential race tonight and the crowd in return loved her for doing it. Her speech was a tribute to their two lives of mutual dedication and dedication to the society they live in, to their unity as a family and the love that carries over to their two adorable daughters. Michelle cut quite a figure up there on the Convention stage, overwhelmingly beautiful, holding her little girls and exuding a message of dignity and respect.

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This stirring moment was coupled with another emotional one, an hour before: Senator Ted Kennedy, struggling with brain cancer, stood brave among his family and vowed to live long enough to see healthcare reformed for Americans. His fighting Boston-Irish voice was full of that same determined strength so familiar for decades to us all, especially a Massachusetts citizen like myself.

I sat with the Massachusetts delegation for his speech (instead of Democrats Abroad), and I can truly say that I felt I had come home politically. The very sound of Kennedy's voice evokes 50 years of the best that Democratic politics has to offer. And what better moment and purpose to hear it used but as an endorsement for Barack Obama, the only candidate - in the words of Caroline Kennedy who introduced her uncle - who ever inspired her, the way people tell her John Kennedy inspired his generation.

This was a lot of emotion for one night, and opening night for the lovefest we've all been wanting for a long time.

MAX DEVESON: CROWD-PLEASING TURNS

25 August: 2230

The Obama family make an appearance - Michelle, with her big speech; Barack via a video link-up, on the campaign trail with a family in Missouri; and - perhaps the most crowd-pleasing turn of the night - a stage invasion from their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

Mrs Obama's speech hit a lot of good notes - the audience particularly liked her tribute to Hillary Clinton, who she said (echoing Mrs Clinton's own words) had "put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling".

This was Michelle Obama's chance to re-introduce herself to America, and a chance to put behind her the damage caused when she was quoted saying that watching the response to her husband's campaign made her "really proud of her country for the first time".

One of the biggest cheers of the night greeted her when she explained "why I love this country" - because of all the people "driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do."

Will this be enough to erase the memory of her comment earlier this year about being proud of the US for the first time?

I will leave the last word to Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, who has followed the Obamas longer than anyone, who knows them better than any other journalist -and who I was lucky enough to be sitting next to during the speech:

"There is no better person to validate Barack Obama than Michelle Obama," she told me.

"She's a terrific speaker, she believes in the story of Barack's journey and her own journey - and she can deliver a stemwinder herself."


MAX DEVESON: A TALE OF TWO FAMILIES

25 August, 2000

The first night of the convention has been a tale of two families - the Obamas and the Kennedys.

Senator Kennedy speaks at the US Democratic Party Convention in Denver, Colorado (25/08/2008)
Senator Kennedy said nothing would have kept him away

First, Barack Obama's half-sister Maya addressed the crowd. And then - after a tribute video introduced by his niece Caroline - Senator Edward Kennedy took to the stage.

Primed by the stirring video, the crowd greeted his entrance with thunderous applause and spine-tingling cheers.

Almost every member of the audience seemed to be carrying a sign with just one word on it: Kennedy.

This was an intensely emotional moment for the audience and for the senator himself, who is recovering from surgery for brain cancer.

"Nothing, nothing was going to keep me away" from attending the convention, he told the crowd - and he vowed to get back to the Senate next year to push through a bill giving Americans universal healthcare.

He ended his speech by telling the audience that "the dream lives on". They seemed particularly happy that one senator in particular lives on.

Later on, the Obama family will be back in the spotlight, when Mr Obama's wife, Michelle, will make the main speech of the night.

One thing is for sure - however good her speech, she won't be able to top Mr Kennedy's appearance for sheer drama and emotion.

MAX DEVESON: IN THE BIG TENT

25 August: 1730

Hundreds of bloggers gathered in one building, eagerly disseminating information. Everywhere you look, laptops are being tapped and smoothies are being slurped. There are even exceedingly comfy-looking sofas and massages on offer, courtesy of internet giant Google.

Everything a blogger could want - except I can't find a decent wi-fi signal...

I'm in the so-called Big Tent - a specially-created space on the fringes of the convention for bloggers to blog, and left-liberal activists to discuss their pet issues.

Eventually, I find my signal - and what can I report?

There's a lot of variety on display up on the platform, with speakers ranging from old media stalwarts like Jonathan Alter from Newsweek and Paul Krugman of the New York Times to internet upstarts like Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post. We're even graced by the presence of a genuine liberal hero - Ted Sorenson, speechwriter for John F Kennedy.

There's also a lot of passion on display - and an abundance of confidence. After all, many of these internet activists paved the way for Barack Obama's web-fuelled political insurgency.

They feel like they created Mr Obama. And they intend to hold him to the promises he made - on free trade, climate change and universal healthcare - in the primary campaign.

It's not just political outcomes that are being discussed, however. It's also political methods.

Again and again the point is made that the model of political organising developed over the last few years by the internet pioneers to challenge the Republicans in government can be used in the future to hold a Democratic government to account, and ensure that any reforms that are made remain true to progressive ideals.

Some speakers, like Mr Krugman, point to the power of trade unions to spread the message of reform.

But ultimately, the afternoon - and for a brief few days, this building in downtown Denver - belongs to the bloggers.

MAX DEVESON: HARDCORE CLINTONITES

25 August: 1355

She dropped out of the presidential race months ago, but Hillary Clinton - and her husband Bill - are still the talk of the convention.

There is much speculation as to whether Barack Obama's decision not even to vet her for the vice-presidency was a snub - and whether her supporters will view it that way.

She herself has made a bid for unity, by officially releasing all of the convention delegates who are pledged to her, allowing them to vote however they want.

The chances are, however, that most of them will still register their preference for Mrs Clinton when the floor vote takes place - after all, the reason they're in Denver is because they're hardcore Clintonites!

I spoke to Abby and Lynne, delegates from Michigan, who are loyal Obama supporters but said they knew of at least one fellow Michigander who was sticking with Mrs Clinton.

They were glad about yesterday's agreement, reinstating full voting rights for the delegations from Florida and Michigan - although Lynn was sad she wasn't going to be able to wear her specially-made T-shirt, emblazoned with the slogan: "A half a vote with a whole heart".

Mrs Clinton's super-delegates - the senior party officials who get a vote at the convention by virtue of their position - will all almost certainly rally behind Mr Obama - including Mrs Clinton herself.

While Mrs Clinton is busy attempting to sew the party together, her husband is perhaps being slightly less co-operative.

If this story in the Politico is to be believed, the former president is unhappy that he has been asked by the Obama team to speak about national security - he'd rather talk about domestic issues, and the achievements of his own administration.

And a former Clinton spokesman has gone on the record in the New Republic, asserting that Mr Clinton "feels like the Obama campaign ran against and systematically dismissed his administration's accomplishments. And he feels like he was painted as a racist during the primary process".

Maybe today's announcement that Bruce Springsteen is to play on the last night of the convention will help bring about some much-needed party unity?

CONNIE BORDE: CAUCUSES, PANELS, LUNCHES...

25 August: 0930

Monday morning. All of the state delegations have now received their credentials. This is the most important morning ritual of the day, every day. Credentials are delivered to delegation hotels under armoured guard at 4.30am, and at 9am delegates stand in line to get their floor passes which we wear around our necks like badges of honour.

At the same time comes the lottery for guest passes for the lucky few. Then we're off for the next few hours making the rounds of dozens of talkfests, caucuses, panels, lunches and meetings with some of the biggest power players in the Democratic Party. The greatest dilemma is... choice.

You wish you could divide yourself up and do them all. The ADA (Americans for Democratic Action), the progressive policy group, meets at noon (Barney Frank! Jerry Nadler! Robert Kuttner!), just when the American European Institute hosts a duel of words among Richard Holbrooke, Florida Senator Bill Nelson and other luminaries. What to choose, where to go? (I'm opting for the ADA with the prodigious Representative Frank.)

The convention floor opens today at 4pm. We're all looking forward to the tribute to Senator Kennedy.

And what about Unity? What about the Clintons? What about the 27% of Hillary supporters who say they're voting for McCain? More to come... later.

JENNIFER COPESTAKE: HELLO DENVER

25 August: 0900

After getting my credentials and being told which of the many levels of the convention centre I have access to (and the many levels I don't) my first goal was to find out something about Denver. So I headed into the city to meet the Mike Noe, the Interactive Editor of the Rocky Mountain News.

The Rocky Mountain News office is in a stunning new building with gorgeous views. Mike said they were very lucky to get in it before the property market took a nose dive. We chatted for a while about Denver and what might influence Colorado voters in the election.

Advertisement

Mike Noe of the Rocky Mountain News says Denver has mixed views about the convention

I spent the rest of Sunday wandering around the streets of Denver which is a very pleasant city. There was an interesting mix of people around: lots of Ralph Nader fans and even a few Ron Paul supporters; anarchists and Republicans; riot police and cowboys. A man selling Obama T-shirts also had an adorable Irish Setter puppy for sale. And there was this man selling non-partisan mints.

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Specially produced Democratic and Republican mints on sale in Denver

I ended my evening by talking to some very earnest young interns who are working at the convention and were sitting outside drinking coffee.

I have to admit it's difficult to know exactly what the networking achieves but later I'm going to get a closer look at what delegates do with their days in Denver.

CONNIE BORDE: A FEELING OF UNITY

25 August: 0100

Denver is a hub of Democratic activity. The grand reception for the delegates was held tonight, a festive affair with 6,000 fired-up attendees, delegates, super-delegates, Congress folks and other such afficionados, hosted by Louisiana with delicious food stations (shrimp gumbo, rice and black beans... mmm) every few meters, great live music and general upbeat atmosphere.

Earlier in the day, serious business took place in the Credentials Committee, where both Florida and Michigan were reinstated as full-vote delegations.

To refresh your memories, both states had been sanctioned for holding their primaries outside the calendar that had been set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). A DNC decision in June gave each state half-vote representation, but today the full vote was reinstated.

Florida and Michigan are happy delegations tonight. This makes for opening the convention with a feeling of unity among the delegates, and that, after all, is what the theme of this week is all about.

Another reason for cheer: Joe Biden as Barack's vice-presidential choice wins unanimous support with every person I've crossed so far.

MAX DEVESON: SOMETHING ABOUT TO HAPPEN

24 August: 1920

This is my first time in Denver, and the city seems to have put on its best clothes for the convention.

On the way into the city from the airport, it's impossible to miss a field of solar panels stretching into the distance. They were laid down very recently - an attempt to impress the many environmentally-conscious delegates coming to Denver for the convention, perhaps?

Denver is an impressive city, with its clutch of skyscrapers spiking out of the Colorado plains, the foothills of the Rockies looming in the middle distance.

Everywhere you turn, you get the feeling that Something Is About To Happen.

Downtown, on my way to the Pepsi Center, where the convention is being held, I came upon a group of anti-war demonstrators marching down the city's main drag, accompanied by plenty of armed police.

One of the marchers was wearing a George W Bush mask, topped off with devil's horns. Another, dressed a little impractically for the summer heat, was clad in an ostrich costume - apparently John McCain is burying his head in the sand on economic policy. He was definitely a hit with all the children, who wanted to get their picture taken with him.

We're all of us - marchers, police, journalists, delegates and ostriches - waiting with bated breath for tomorrow, when the show kicks off in earnest (possibly with a rumoured, and no doubt emotional, appearance from party legend Ted Kennedy, who is still recovering from his recent surgery for brain cancer).

CONNIE BORDE: EN ROUTE TO DENVER

24 August: Early morning

Fired-up and ready to go to Denver, in Boston Logan Airport waiting to board, my computer inbox flooded with invitations to talkfests and parties, my anticipations are high for what promises to be a very different kind of Convention: technologically savvy with live streaming and daily webcasts, a partnership with YouTube, 120 credentialed blogs, a Spanish simulcast... more people will be able to see it than ever before in history.

And more people want to see it. Barack Obama's personal story, his roller-coaster-riding nomination and the suspenseful nomination of Joe Biden as Vice-President have captured the attention of the whole country and the whole world.

No-one knows this more than a Democratic super-delegate coming from abroad, where Barack Obama swept 68% in a global primary and where the potential to register hundreds of thousands of new voters is becoming a reality. (Take a look at this YouTube video made with Gwyneth Paltrow, who will be voting in London.)

The next few days promise more emotions, significant speakers (but short speeches), a heart-thumping roll call for Senator Clinton, the much-awaited Bill Clinton address to his Party and the lovefest that we expect will follow.

All eyes on Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, Mark Warner, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Hillary and... Barack. Time to fasten seatbelts. Time to go West.

OUR DIARISTS

Connie Borde is a super-delegate representing Democrats Abroad. She has lived in France for some 40 years, and lectured for half of this period at the prestigious Sciences Po institute in Paris. She has authored or co-authored books on American cooking, American politics, and English grammar - and is currently translating Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. "I always supported Barack Obama," she says. "But I waited to give my super-delegate vote until February 2008 when Democrats Abroad France (my constituency) voted in his favour by 71%." She has a French husband, and six children.

Max Deveson, 30, is the BBC News website's Washington reporter. He joined the BBC in 2001 to work as a political analyst in Westminster, later moving to the online world news team. He has an obsessive interest in the US and its politics and was particularly excited to land an interview with Ted Kennedy on his first assignment in Washington this year. When not obsessing about US politics, Max enjoys attempting to play Iron and Wine songs on the guitar.

Jennifer Copestake, 25, is an online video producer for World News America. She's been with the programme since its first broadcast in October 2007. After the conventions she'll be video-blogging from a BBC election bus on a 38-day road trip across the country. Jennifer was born in Canada and has reported for the CBC, the Hill Times, the Observer and More 4 News. She's been in Washington since early summer, but will return one day to London, where she lives with her fiance and two cats.

The BBC News website will also publish a diary of the Republican Convention, featuring Louisiana delegate Mike Bayham.


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