Democratic Convention ends with a storm of excitement

Mary J. Blige had them jamming in the aisles and in the suites. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords blew a kiss, and they cheered “Gab-by! Gab-by! Gab-by!” And Sen. John F. Kerry made them roar when he roared: “Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off today than he was four years ago!”

Despite shifting the events away from an open-air stadium because of the weather forecast, the final night of the Democratic National Convention stirred up an indoor storm with a series of booming speeches, polished videos and even a get-up-and-stretch dance break that repeatedly brought delegates to their feet.

But it wasn’t just a party, at least not for everyone who wanted to celebrate. Torrential downpours intermittently drenched delegates. Hundreds with badges and tickets were turned away from Time Warner Cable Arena when the fire marshal ruled the building had reached capacity. And many others who had traveled by bus and by car for many hours to see President Obama learned after they arrived that the move from Bank of America Stadium meant there was no room for them.

But one theme ran through the frustrations, the tears and the cheers: the strong emotions of high expectations.

Giffords: A poignant recitation and a blown kiss

The lectern was moved offstage for the Pledge of Allegiance. Nothing obscured the halting steps of Giffords. The former congresswoman from Arizona was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire as she met with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket.

Her struggle to regain speech and motor function has been long, but Thursday night she walked onto the stage unassisted, sneakers under her black slacks, not needing the protective arm of her good friend, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stood a few inches away.

Giffords’s strong recitation of the pledge brought the crowd to its feet, bringing tears to the eyes of two women from the Montana delegation.

“She suffered such violence, and to think that she had the strength and courage to want to come out here just moved me,” said Nancy Anderson, vice chairwoman of the delegation.

“She was just meeting with her people, outside the Safeway,” said Jean Lemitz Dahlman, who lives on a ranch outside Forsyth, “and this disturbed person came. And now she has pushed herself to come out and meet with her people again,” she said, even if just for a moment. “It just made me cry.”

Confetti drops from the ceiling

After the president was done talking, as the cheers grew stronger, confetti rained on the Obama and Biden families who gathered on the stage together, the classic finishing touch for a very American tableau. Four years ago, the first African American nominee and his white elder changed the guard. Now, they seek to guard the change.

And Jean Lemire Dalhman, a Montana delegate who had been in Denver in 2008, said “this has just been a transcendent experience. They just get better!”

She talked about her history with political conventions and the history of her party.

“I licked envelopes for Harry Truman,” she said, “and I was jealous of the ‘like Ike’ buttons because nothing rhymed with Adlai. And I’ve gone to four conventions, but I’ve never felt so emotionally involved as this time. The legacy of our party is so remarkable. I’m so proud. I think he did it!”

A little something to take back home

One of the iconic scenes across the floor of the convention hall was the succession of signs that delegates held up, on cue, to cheer the speakers.

When Kerry lauded Obama’s foreign-policy record and his support for U.S. troops and returning veterans, the audience lifted a sea of blue signs with a message for soldiers: “Thank you.”

When Vice President Biden took the stage, the message was, “Ready for Joe!”

For Obama, it was a simple brand of the 2012 campaign: “Forward.”

For all the delegates, the message-machine of signage quickly transformed into a take-away souvenir. As delegates gathered their bags, rolled up their American flags and filed out of the hall after the close of the convention, hundreds of them tucked the posters under their arms, or slid them into their bags and backpacks to take with them.

Rick Hansen was among those collecting signs to take home, particularly the “Thank you” message, which he hoped to give to veterans back home. Bending over in a row of seats on the convention floor, Hansen, a Minnesota delegate and state legislator, was also picking up pieces of red, white and blue confetti. They’re for his volunteers, he said.

“I’ve been getting texts all night from people saying, ‘I wish I was there!’” Hansen said. “These are big enough to sign and date. And it’s an easy way of bringing a little bit of the convention home with me.”

Amy Argetsinger and Ann Gerhart contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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