By Gilbert Garcia
Question: How long does it take to get 84,000 people into Denver's Invesco Field for a DNC acceptance speech?
Answer: Way too long.
One couple got married and divorced while waiting in the mile-high, miles-long line. Myself, I wrote the Great American Novel by the time I got through the security checkpoint (it's now available in paperback). And, if I'm not mistaken, an 8-year-old kid grew a salt-and-pepper beard along the way. I'm telling you, this was a slow line.
But it did provide some entertaining moments along the way. For instance, vendors on the serpentine route were selling the best t-shirt I saw all week: an old hip-hop knockoff that proclaimed: "RUN-DNC." Also, one bottled-water salesman tried to get around the fact that security wouldn't allow bottles to be brought into the stadium, with this passionate pitch: "You can carry it inside -- in your body!"
Inside Invesco, there were a few drab stretches for the crowd (c'mon, Michael McDonald, but no "Yah Mo B There"? That's a campaign anthem waiting to happen.). But the text-message-your-Obama-love contest was a brilliant, MTV-like gimmick and it was remarkable how thunderous that foot stomping could be when Barack Obama or Al Gore tore the GOP a new one. At one point, the faithful even pretended the Broncos were playing, and did the wave for about five minutes. And you had to love the guy straight from heartland central-casting, telling the throng: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney!"
From where I was sitting (level 4, to be precise), Obama's speech was pretty powerful, if, by necessity, more earthbound and less poetic than his famous 2004 keynote address at the DNC. His riskiest line -- "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, but he won't even go to the cave where he lives" -- drew "Did he really say that?" gasps (and a few laughs) in the print-media booth at Invesco. Obama's strongest themes were not so strident, but still unmistakably sharp: "Change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington"; "America, we cannot go back"; and "What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me, it's about you." Also, as the only known member of the International Adam Rich Fan Club, I mightily enjoyed Obama's "Eight is Enough" slam on Bush.
On my flight out of Denver Friday morning, I spoke to a Hillary supporter who's now a lukewarm Barack backer ("I might write-in Hillary," she said with a laugh.). She chose to watch the extravaganza on TV instead of going to the stadium and said she found the speech slightly flat, as if Obama was preoccupied with playing to the stadium crowd instead of the national viewing audience. She also told me she's participated in some focus groups and came away thinking Obama could very well lose this election. She said women and seniors in the focus groups remain resistant to him and his attack ads (such as the one about McCain forgetting how many houses he owns) are not registering, while McCain's (tying Obama to Chicago developer Tony Rezko or comparing him to Paris Hilton) are reaching their target audience (presumably, people who can't tell the difference between a 47-year-old senator and a 27-year-old, club-hopping hotel heiress).
McCain's surprise announcement of first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate confirmed everything he's hinted at over the last couple of weeks: He's betting the house on his ability to steal away Hillary diehards.
If Obama's campaign gets out the vote and holds its base together, they're confident their man will win. McCain's strategy begins and ends with the Hillary-defection factor. Regarding Palin, Americans have two months to decide if they want a frumpier, gun-loving Tina Fey as their next next vice-president.