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Delegates give opening night of Democratic convention high marks

September 05, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Delegates wave signs during the opening night ceremonies of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Delegates wave signs during the opening night ceremonies of the Democratic… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It included six straight hours of speechifying, mind-bendingly long lines to buy overpriced water and hot dogs and the requirement that all umbrellas be abandoned at the entrance. But delegates inside the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte gave high marks to the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, emphasizing that they’re just as enthusiastic this time around as they were in 2008.

“I have been coming here since [Walter F.] Mondale ran for president and this was the best I’ve heard,” said Elsie Burkhalter, a delegate from Louisiana. “I think that they touched the heart of the American soul.”

Burkhalter, from Slidell, said her home flooded just as she was leaving town because of Hurricane Isaac. But she came anyway, and wasn’t disappointed.

“They  had somebody to represent everybody,” she said. “The students, the grandparents, the moms, the dads, and it touched every citizen.”

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Many delegates spoke warmly about Michelle Obama’s speech, which ended the night. Obama spoke of the difficulty of being a mother and wife in the White House, and about what her husband believed.

“She just so genuine. I was there the last convention and she was great, but today she was much more emotional,” said Jadine Nielsen, a delegate from Hawaii who was wearing a fresh lei of flowers and an assortment of multicolored leis to represent the LGBT movement. “I felt it was much more personal; it mattered more.”

To be sure, delegates aren’t a fair slice of Democrats in general: they probably represent the most enthusiastic people in the party, and likely look forward to the convention as others would to the Super Bowl. But their enthusiasm was palpable. Called on to applaud after every speech, delegates still danced to a band on stage and waved signs handed out to the audience.

The signs were coordinated with speeches on stage, so that delegates waved blue and red “Forward” and “Not Back” signs during Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s speech that contained the same words, and orange “Opportunity” and “Oportunidad” signs during Mayor Julian Castro’s speech, creating an impressive visual effect of a sea of signs waving in the arena.

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Some of the highest marks inside the arena and out came for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who rallied the crowd with his criticisms of Mitt Romney’s reign in his state. Indeed, some of the loudest cheers of the night came during speeches that criticized the GOP nominee, including footage of a debate between Mitt Romney and the late Ted Kennedy.

Patrick “was amazing,” said state Sen. Jen Flanagan, a delegate from Massachusetts. “He expressed to the people of America exactly what we experienced in Massachusetts with Gov. Romney and exactly what would happen to the people of the United States if he were to become president.”

Delegates said they couldn’t help contrast the opening night to the Republicans’ opening night, which featured New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie was criticized for spending too much time speaking about himself and his accomplishments and not enough time praising Romney.

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By contrast, Julian Castro “was upfront in praising the president and working the president into his life story,” said Mike Zickar, a delegate from Ohio wearing a red, white and blue Uncle Sam hat.

It’s unclear how delegates will sustain this enthusiasm for two more nights in the arena. Red Bull? Something stronger? Flanagan, the Massachusetts delegate, said it’s easy: enthusiasm.

“It’s important to know that going into this election, the Democrats are enthusiastic about our candidates,” she said. “We believe in our candidates; believing in the candidates is also believing in America. We’re looking forward to the election.”

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