For the first time in memory, a spectator at a presidential nomination acceptance speech was treated for sunstroke. Fireworks replaced the traditional balloon drop, sunlight supplanted klieg lights. Parents brought children from as far away as Africa, and delegates munched Bronco Brats and clicked cell phone pictures of a political carnival that bore no resemblance to any convention finale that had come before.
While Sen. Barack Obama took the stage at the center of Invesco Field with big video screens and speakers looming overhead, the scene in the stands and concourse provided just as much of a spectacle. Senators, delegates, party bigwigs and celebrities mingled among political tourists, teenage volunteers and older voters — many of them African-American — bent on seeing a moment they had never thought they would witness. Some waited for five hours in baking heat in a line up to a mile long.
“I have no reason to be here other than to be a part of history,” said Janelle Murph, who had booked a last-minute flight from Baltimore to see the first African-American accept the nomination of a major party on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “When I realized it was on that anniversary, it just felt like fate. I had to be there.”
The scene was one of the most unusual sights in the annals of American political conventions. Overnight, the familiar trappings of the convention hall were moved outdoors, with banners from every state filling the field.
As the afternoon wore on, the warm-up acts went from C- to B- to A-list, and spectators passed the time taking pictures, getting autographs and throwing the occasional Obama beach ball. By the time Al Gore came on at 6:45 p.m., the home of the Denver Broncos was aflutter with flashbulbs, waving flags and Obama signs.
In a twist on the normal convention finale, the prominent figures — donors, elected officials and suit-wearing media celebrities like Dan Rather — looked somewhat like the interlopers. Younger people dressed in jeans and shorts — many not of voting age — seemed decidedly more at home, as if they were attending an open air concert and were fully versed in the festival ritual. The wave broke out in Section 338 just after Gore’s speech ended and spread quickly around the stadium.
Big American flags waved next to massive Obama signs above where the number of the Broncos great Randy Gradishar’s No. 53 is retired.
The occasion was part coronation, part organizing meeting, part Woodstock and part very long lines at the metal detectors. Chants of “Yes, we can” (not “Go Broncos”) broke out, and big delegate hats outnumbered face paint (usually preferred at a football game). To some extent, the event resembled a Broncos game, albeit without beer sales, no discernible opposition and Obama in the spotlight role of John Elway (the Broncos quarterback). Prices were stadium scale: $3.50 for a small bottle of water.