CHARLOTTE, N.C. It had the feel of a revival, and in some ways it was one.
The Democratic National Convention officially nominated President Barack Obama to run again Thursday night, and Obama immediately began trying to revive the enthusiasm that surrounded his campaign and carried him to the White House in 2008.
As delegates by the thousands held blue-and-white signs that read “Forward” and waved American flags, Obama talked in detail about the vision that he would like to implement if he gets the four more years that the DNC faithful at Time Warner Cable Arena so badly want him to have.
It was a winning 40-minute performance – unusual in an arena that normally belongs to the Charlotte Bobcats, who finished last season on a 23-game losing streak. But it was no surprise. Obama’s gift as a speaker is that he can seem both conversational and approachable while also sounding like the smartest, calmest guy in the room.
The president was funny. He told his daughters, who were sitting a few feet away beside their mother, that they still had to go to school in the morning.
He told the audience he shared their disdain for campaign commercials, saying: “If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me, so am I.”
But Obama quickly segued into seriousness and stayed there for much of the speech, saying the choice between himself and Republican nominee Mitt Romney “will be a choice between two different paths for America.”
“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy,” Obama said. “I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. … The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.”
Because organizers made the timid decision to move the convention’s final night from Bank of America Stadium indoors to the basketball arena – scared off by a small threat of bad weather – around 65,000 people that would have gotten in to see Obama’s speech were shut out. And some with credentials didn’t get in either, standing outside in frustration because the arena was at full capacity.
Inside, the arena has never been more crowded nor felt more important. The buzz five hours before Obama’s speech already felt like moments before a Super Bowl kickoff.
Concession lines were overwhelmed, as people snapped up $7.50 cheeseburgers and $8.75 beers after standing in lines that were often 30-people deep. The most-desired freebies were the free cellphone charging stations. People plugged in their phones and watched them longingly, like parents lingering at the hospital window to see their newborn child.
The night started building to a crescendo early. Mary J. Blige got the Democrats clapping their hands. And Gabrielle Giffords drew a huge applause as she led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Slick videos featuring Obama’s greatest hits in office punctuated every 30 minutes or so. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, made appearances. Another video, this one narrated by actor George Clooney, played on the big screens.
And then the headliner finally came out, at 10:23 p.m., and everything else melted away.
Obama began the speech talking about hope, just as he did in 2004 when he first catapulted to fame as an obscure senatorial candidate from Illinois speaking to the DNC for the first time.
“I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention,” Obama said. “Times have changed, and so have I … But as I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America.”
Obama wants to revive that feeling, that hopefulness. To ride the wave again. And on Thursday night in Charlotte, with two months to go before an election that is up for grabs, the president got off to a fine start.