CHARLOTTE, N.C. Theyre coming from distant lands and every nook of America, 56 delegations comprising the largest and most diverse Democratic National Convention since President Andrew Jacksons Kitchen Cabinet assembled the first DNC in Baltimore 180 years ago.
Nearly 6,000 delegates will begin arriving in earnest Sunday from places with storybook names like Crow Agency (Montana), Apache Junction (Arizona), Contoocook (New Hampshire) and Pago Pago (American Samoa) and from many of the worlds great cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Paris, London, Geneva.
All for what in recent years have become ostensibly scripted pageants prime-time advertisements for the party tickets to stoke the loyalists.
Some like 90-year-old Charles Johnson of Rocky Mount, a self-described Harry Truman Democrat, have spent their lives devoted to Democratic Party causes. A few like 77-year-old Nan Stearns of Amherst, N.H., who calls herself a recovering Republican, are recent converts.
Many broke barriers. Many more are getting their first nibble of national politics, like Andrea Walton of Princeton, Ind., just old enough to vote at 18 wholl be coming after her first week of classes at American University, where she is a freshman.
For the next few days, the obscure will mingle with the famous and powerful. Among them: actress Ashley Judd and legendary photo editor John Morris; former president Bill Clinton (and his vice president Al Gore); former House Speakers Nancy Pelosi (now minority leader) and Tom Foley and current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and earlier SMLs George Mitchell and Tom Daschle.
Famous or not, theyre all here to ultimately nominate and confirm the Democratic ticket of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, adopt a party platform and unify the party before sending all Democratic candidates out for the fall campaign.
I am so excited to spend several days with like-minded Democrats, said Walton, who plans to major in political science. I know Im young and maybe naïve, but I think this convention will fire up the ranks so we can go out and elect President Obama to four more years.
Diversity on display
By design, it will be a convention of as many women as men.
They are white, African-American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian /Pacific Islanders, Arab-Americans. They are straight, gay and transgender. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus.
Were proud that in keeping with our theme of hosting the most open and accessible convention in history, our delegates will also be the most diverse in history, said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell.
By contrast, at last weeks Republican National Convention, 2 percent of the delegates were black, said David Bositis, senior political analyst for the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. Every four years since 1992, Bositis has crunched roster numbers of the national conventions to study black participation in both parties.
Among 46 RNC delegation rosters Bositis received last week, he counted 46 black delegates. He estimates the total was more like 50 had he been given all 55 delegation rosters. That is up from the 2008 convention, when there were 38 black delegates, but way down from the 2004 RNC, when a record 165 black delegates attended, Bositis said.
At least a dozen DNC delegations are bringing more black delegates than those assembled in Tampa, Fla.
Ada Fisher, a black RNC delegate from Salisbury and one of two black members of the Republican National Committee, said she was pleased with the number of minorities at the 2012 RNC.
Proportionately, I would say we are well-represented here, Fisher said. Our party is very open. If they want to participate they can participate.
Many of the DNC delegates come with stories that fortify their party loyalty.
Stearns grew up in Oregon, her parents lifelong Republicans. I was born Republican and raised Republican. My mother was Mrs. Republican in Pineville, Ore., Stearns said.
She switched parties in 1992 to vote for Bill Clinton. My husband and I dont feel we left the Republican Party. We feel the Republican Party left us, she said.
She hopes the convention sends the country two messages:
That we are a great, beautiful, joyful contrast to the Republican National Convention. And that Barack Obama is the epitome of a great leader. He saved the auto industry. He reformed health care, the first president to get that done in a long, long time. He used the Navy SEALS to get Osama (bin Laden).
His is a not failed leadership. Any failure is the fault of those who chose to make him a one-term president.
Walton, the college student from Indiana, was twice a U.S. House page. Last August, during the critical House vote to raise the national debt ceiling, Walton met Biden and watched former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords return to the chamber for the first time since a gunman nearly killed her at an Arizona political event seven months earlier.
She cast a yes vote and it was an exhilarating moment for me, Walton said. I was so proud to be a Democrat.
Ralph Whitaker III grew up a Democrat in Raleigh and moved to Hawaii a Democrat in 1997. Now hes returning home proud to have the DNC in his native state.
I am proud to stand where I stand in terms of showing Democratic solidarity in my home state, he said. That we welcome different ideas, personalities, sexual orientations, religions. That we respect families, whatever their makeup may be. That we honor all our military, no matter their party affiliation or sexual orientation.
Even at 91, Katie Hurley is traveling a great distance to get here from Alaska, where in the 1950s she played a role in her native land becoming the 49th U.S. state.
Hurley was the secretary to territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening, who was pushing for Alaskas statehood. During the constitutional convention, Gruening appointed her chief clerk for what would lead to Alaska becoming a state in 1959.
My work for statehood was the most important and proudest thing I ever did, she said. I would have done it even if they hadnt paid me.
She lives in Wasilla, famous for being a political springboard for former Republican Wasilla Mayor, Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Hurleys son, David Alexander, said his mother and Palin were cordial. But mom never remotely saw eye-to-eye with her. It only strengthened her loyalties to the Democratic Party.
Hurley has lost count of the number of conventions shes attended, either as a delegate or guest. Her first was in 1976. Charlottes about her ninth.
The distance doesnt bother her the prospect of Southern heat does.
Coming from Alaska, I dont do well in heat, Hurley said. But nothing would keep me from Charlotte. Staff Writer Jim Morrill contributed.