DENVER – When Michael Buckley arrives in Denver this weekend, he is sure that he will be there to witness one of the most historic events in American history.
Buckley, along with more than 50,000 people, will flood into Denver for the Democratic National Convention to see Illinois Sen. Barack Obama become the first black presidential nominee of any major political party in the United States.
Starting Monday, Buckley and the rest of the nation will also get to see how Obama does on such a big stage, and how the Democratic Party attempts to heal from its contentious primary battle.
“It’s definitely one of those `tell your grandkids stories,'” said Buckley, 39, an Obama delegate from Silver Spring. “I was initially struck by the excitement that’s been building up, but it’s a good opportunity to show a national audience that he’s [Obama] qualified and would make a change this country hasn’t seen in eight years.”
One of the main goals of the convention will be to convince as many voters as possible that Obama is in fact ready to take over the White House.
“Basically the convention will be about how [Democrats] will present themselves to the country, reiterate the party’s major themes and explain how the presidential nominee intends to wage the general election,” said William Galston, senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings. “The high point of the convention is not anything that’s voted on so much as the nominee’s acceptance speeches.”
Since announcing his bid to run for president in February 2007, Obama has been the subject of a barrage of criticism questioning his faith, background, patriotism and lack of political experience. Obama is a relative newcomer to the national scene, having been elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004.
Although Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, maintains that he has never questioned Obama’s patriotism, he has accused Obama of wanting to lose the war in Iraq instead of losing the presidential campaign.
To combat some of the criticism, the convention and the party’s platform focus on the candidate’s core priorities and policies and address key issues such as unity, security and change.
The convention will celebrate Obama’s history and family roots, as well as attempt to dispel criticism of him as an out-of-touch celebrity.
There will be speeches from Obama’s wife and sister, as well as testimonies from “real people” with experiences related to issues Obama and the party platform are highlighting.
Generally, a party platform serves as a blueprint for issues that the presidential nominee will address if elected.
“I really do believe that this convention will be different from all of the past national conventions. There is a lot of excitement about what Obama stands for and what the country needs, and I think this convention will address a change of direction regarding the way things are being done,” said Dan Clements, 61, an Obama delegate from Annapolis.
Maybe more important than this year’s party platform and speeches will be whether or not the sharply polarized Democratic Party will be able to unify at the convention after the bruising primary battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
“We know that it’s very rare for two candidates to be as evenly matched as Obama and Clinton were throughout the primary season. This year’s convention will no doubt revolve around the ways in which these two major forces will come back together- assuming that they do,” Galston said.
In an effort to demonstrate unity, Clinton has been given the prime speaking slot on Tuesday night, and former President Clinton will be a featured speaker on Wednesday night.
Also, Sen. Clinton’s name will be included in the roll call of states, ending a debate about whether or not her supporters would be allowed to cast their votes for her on Wednesday night.
In an effort to showcase his campaign’s ability to bring together Americans from diverse backgrounds, Obama will accept the nomination in front of more than 75,000 people at Invesco field.
“I remember watching him [Obama] speak at the 2004 convention, and at the end of it I said, This guy is special,” Clements said. “The hard part for him is that he is always so inspiring that he will have to find a way to inspire us all anew in this speech. It will be his challenge to ratchet it up even more. But I know he’s up to the challenge.”