CHARLOTTE, N.C. Think church because it’s a congregation of like-minded believers. Think bazaar because of all the vendors hawking trinkets. And think carnival with the cacophony of shouts and colors.
All together, you get a picture of what it was like this week at the Democratic National Convention for the 180 members of the North Carolina delegation.
“There’s really no way to totally describe what it’s like being here,” said Deborah Giles, a Durham delegate. “The experience is overwhelming because of the significance and magnitude of what it means.”
The days started at 8 a.m. with a delegation breakfast and a shot of partisan caffeine from a parade of Democrat officials – including a few well-known names like national party leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
From there, North Carolina’s delegates dispersed into the city, joining the throng of other states’ delegates and media. Herded like cattle in a stockyard through steel barricades along the streets and vehicle checkpoints, they attended caucus meetings for different interests, whether women or rural communities, and forums with elite thinkers hosted by media companies and political groups.
The week was crack for political junkies like Elizabeth Redenbaugh, a first-time delegate from Wilmington. Not counting the convention speeches, she said her best experience was a panel about the changing political demographics featuring MSNBC’s David Gregory, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. “I saw this as an opportunity to educate myself,” she said. “It just feels so geeky.”
Others sought out their political and media stars, stalking cable TV studios and forums. Loretta Clawson, the Boone mayor, gushed at meeting Charlie Rose and Nancy Pelosi. “They are smaller than they are on TV,” she said.
The walk to the arena down College Street toward the city center and convention hall has been a sensory experience. Anti-abortion advocates pontificating through megaphones and holding graphic photos of fetuses. Police officers every 10 feet. Activists wanting passersby to sign petitions. A man shouting “Ten dollars. Ten dollars. Ten dollars” shaking T-shirts. Anything with President Barack Obama’s likeness, or images of his family could be bought: posters, buttons, calendars, paintings, cellphone cases, sunglasses, trailer hitch covers. Anything.
“Button collecting is part of the game in coming to the convention,” explained Giles, a delegate with nine Obama buttons on the lanyard around her neck that holds her much-coveted floor pass.
The madness continued inside the hall. North Carolina’s delegation had a sweet spot in the front, and delegates raced to the hall to grab the front row seats, where television cameras and photographers blasted their smiling faces around the globe. “My sister in Germany sent me an email saying she saw me on CNN,” said Jim Dougherty, a Fayetteville delegate.
Tiffany Powers of Fayetteville used another tactic. “A friend said, ‘Tiffany, if you want to get on TV you have to get a hat,’ ” she said. She did. A big cartoonish top hat that complements her red-white-and-blue light-up sunglasses.
The delegates passed the time with chants and dancing to the music from the house deejay – yes, there was a house deejay. It took a minute to train them, but eventually the North Carolina delegation traded “TAR” and “HEEL” chants with the Ohio delegates.
Once the speeches started at 5 p.m., the applause lines often shook the arena bleachers. “It’s static electricity,” said Beth Ostgaard, a 55-year-old from Marion.
By the end, often with the clock nearing midnight, many convention delegates hit dozens of parties with free-flowing liquor and buffets, dancing into the wee morning hours, only to wake hours later. “Everyone is running high on adrenaline,” Ostgaard said.
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