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WITNESSES TO A HISTORIC MOMENT

At the Very Top of Invesco Field, Feeling More Than a Mile High

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By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 28 -- They sat in the top rows of Invesco Field at Mile High, so far from the stage they could barely see a thin outline of Barack Obama walking toward the lectern. But up here, they could feel it.

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Just after 10 p.m. Thursday, the Democrats in Section 514 stood in unison, stomped against the metal bleachers and waved American flags above their heads. Benjamin Harris of Colorado Springs admired a view from his aisle seat that he never had imagined: three sections of packed bleachers beneath him, a standing-room-only crowd of delegates on the arena floor and a lone figure standing up straight in a dark suit, alone at the stadium's center.

"You can feel the euphoria," Harris said, "and it gives you chills."

For many of the more than 84,000 people inside Invesco Field, the finale of the Democratic National Convention was more about a sensation than a speech, more about pageantry than politics. People traveled from 50 states, enduring long security lines and traffic nightmares, to experience a few minutes of history. When Obama stepped onstage to accept his party's presidential nomination, flashes from thousands of cameras lighted up the stadium.

Those who filled blue plastic chairs in the far reaches of the stadium said it hardly mattered that they needed binoculars to see Obama, or that the noise drowned out sections of his speech. All they cared about was being here.

Across the stadium, the crowd that surrounded Obama spoke to the significance of the night as much as the speaker. State senators leaned toward the stage to take pictures. Families in the upper deck strained to see through binoculars. Concession stands sold T-shirts inscribed with the message "I Was There to Witness History."

"I'm always going to remember being a little part of this," said Linda Warren, 66, of Denver. "I care about the speech, but I'm probably not going to remember most of what he says. Standing up here, waving the flag, talking to everybody around us in the stands -- all of that makes you feel like a part of something."

Obama has thrived in his career by turning campaign stops into emotional experiences, and his advisers worked to maximize the impact of their setup at Invesco Field. Obama entered a blue-carpeted stage decorated with plywood Greek-style columns and 24 American flags. He walked down a runway, casting a long shadow behind him, and stopped at a lectern on a peninsula. More than 450 spotlights illuminated his figure. Nobody else stood within 15 yards.

From the 500 level, the lighting made Obama look like the star of a rock concert, and the crowd responded accordingly. At various times during his speech, attendees chanted, danced and shook miniature American flags in unison. At other times, they stood in silence, wiping away tears or taking more pictures. The Denver Broncos have sold out this stadium for every game, but Obama's appearance affected the audience more than any football game in the history of the venue, vendors and stadium officials said.

"I never thought I'd see a night like this in my lifetime," said Jennifer Herrington, who drove 12 hours with her husband from Clarinda, Iowa. "We had to apply for credentials, and when we got them, we knew we would come. I mean, a part of me still can't believe we're here, at something as big as this."

The Obama team moved the speech away from the 17,000-seat Pepsi Center because it wanted this event to be "for the public," campaign manager David Plouffe said. More than 2,000 delegates crowded into lawn chairs on the stadium floor, and the bleachers filled with supporters who had signed up for tickets online. The crowd was even larger than the one that heard John F. Kennedy's acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, held at the Memorial Coliseum.

A series of megastars rotated onto the stage -- musicians John Legend and Sheryl Crow, singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder, former vice president Al Gore -- while dozens of other A-list celebrities mingled near the stage. Fireworks and confetti accompanied the end of Obama's speech. As the crowd streamed out of the 500 level, one man in an Obama T-shirt exclaimed, "What a show!"


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