5 p.m. The first night was mystical, magical, all “Kumbaya,” cheers and tears. The second night begins with chaos and discord. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tries to amend the platform to deal with GOP criticism, adding a mention of God and stating that Jerusalem is the proper capital of Israel. “The matter requires a two-thirds vote,” he says, and then calls for yeas and nays. The hall is still mostly empty, and sounds evenly divided.
5:04 p.m. “Let me do that again,” he says. The “No!” is as loud as the “Yeah!” — or louder. He tries a third time. Same result. And then, egged on by the bureaucrats, he rules: “In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative.” There is just no way he believes what he is saying. Boos in the hall.
5:06 p.m. The program moves on to the benediction, as if none of that just happened. Those in the hall bow their heads to pray all will be forgotten. The colors come out. Olympian Gabby Douglas says the pledge. Branford Marsalis, on soprano sax, does the national anthem. Maybe it is working.
5:15 p.m. It is working. Back on script, a cavalcade of minor dignitaries with similar messages mostly tailored to niche interest groups take the stage. Members of Congress, a sheriff, a mayor, a state controller, a caucus chair, a green-energy booster, Chuck Schumer. They blur together, until Schumer says, “Our family always associated the smell of roach spray with love.” In proper context, the line is less interesting.
6:41 p.m. Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver brings the old-time religion. “Color me a Democrat. Color me a liberal,” he shouts. “Mr. President, hope on! Hope on! Hope on!” He stamps his feet, then the crowd starts stamping, and the hall fills with thunder. It’s a tough act to follow, a fact that Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy acknowledges before listing some talking points in a nasal monotone.
7:17 p.m. These conventions start to blur together after a while. Four or five hours a night, for nights on end, the flashy videos, the American Dreams, the partisan bile. Which is to say, another busload of speakers take turns onstage, a mixture of congressional leaders, Cabinet Secretaries and regular folk, though the crowd is less fired up than the night before. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the election is about “the character of our country.” “When you go to the polls, vote for Medicare,” she says. “Vote for President Obama.”
7:31 p.m. Roll on, convention train. Roll on. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski comes out with eight other female Senators. “We are going to keep fighting, our shoulders square, our lipstick on,” she says. They go out to Katy Perry: “Baby, you’re a firework/ Come on, let your colors burst/ Make ’em go oh, oh, oh.” Education and North Carolina praise follow. “This is not the time for America to believe in magic,” says Jim Hunt, a former governor, losing Obama votes in Orlando.
8:07 p.m. Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, says Mitt Romney wants to make it harder for women to get health care. “It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of Mad Men,” she says. Pants on fire. There are no bad episodes of Mad Men.
8:30 p.m. Fireworks launch in the Meadowlands as Michael Strahan, the gap-toothed former New York Giants star, hoists the Lombardi Trophy. This is what millions of Americans are watching: Cowboys vs. Giants, kickoff night in the NFL. Here in Charlotte, people are waving miniature American flags at U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
8:38 p.m. As Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth walk America through the pregame ritual, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper walks delegates through the case for Obama’s re-election. “He knows, to move our country forward, it takes we, and not me,” Hickenlooper says. At kickoff, Sister Simone Campbell, a liberal Catholic activist, defends government aid to the poor and says Paul Ryan’s budget is immoral. “We all share responsibility,” she says to applause. “This is part of my pro-life stance.” It’s hard to think of the last time a crowd of Democrats cheered the phrase pro-life.
8:58 p.m. America watches the Cowboys force a fumble. In Charlotte, Small Business Administration director Karen Mills says Obama reduced the time the federal government can take to pay contractors. Then comes Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California, with one of those off-the-shelf convention speeches. “That’s not leadership” is her refrain.
9:14 p.m. For the first time in modern U.S. political-convention history, an undocumented immigrant takes the stage. Benita Veliz is from San Antonio and is a high school valedictorian who graduated at 16. She will benefit from the President’s recent decision to give many young undocumented immigrants temporary work visas. She is followed by Cristina Saralegui, a Cuban American who once had a television show with 100 million viewers in 40 countries. She quotes Romney’s praise of the Arizona immigration law, then says, “Don’t boo. Vote.”
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9:26 p.m. Following immigration, it’s the auto-industry part of program. Apparently Obama did a good thing, and Romney did bad things. Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen attacks Ryan’s performance in Tampa. “If Paul was being honest, he would have pointed to that debt clock and said, ‘We built that,’ ” he says.
10 p.m. Sandra Fluke, of Rush Limbaugh fame, comes out right as the networks cut to coverage. A big standing O. It’s a full-throated attack on Republican policies, from contraception to “invasive ultrasounds.” “We talk often about choice. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s now time to choose,” she says.
10:07 p.m. It’s halftime at the Meadowlands. Curious Americans surfing over to convention coverage find a former Costco CEO reading a speech about his chain of discount-retail outlets off a sheet of paper. Mercifully, it ends.
10:15 p.m. Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren comes out and tries to introduce herself, but chants drown her out. It’s a populist stem winder about a political system rigged against hard-working people. She scolds Romney for saying “Corporations are people.” “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love.” It’s industrial-grade liberal catnip. The crowd is in ecstasy.
10:31 p.m. A video primes the crowd for the next speaker. It’s all coming back: the booming ’90s. Five percent unemployment. Big hair. Bigger surpluses. Bill Clinton in action.
10:34 p.m. The Big Dog bounds out. “We are here to nominate a President,” Clinton begins. “I’ve got one in mind.” He begins to describe this President as “a man who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.” A man “who had the good sense to marry Michelle Obama.” Any Democrats who might have been worried he was talking about himself are quietly relieved.
10:39 p.m. Clinton says Obama is right for the job because the economy has added more jobs under Democratic Presidents than under Republican ones since 1961. Of course, many of those piled up in the 1990s and relatively few were added under Obama, but he glosses. “Poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth,” he says.
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10:44 p.m. It’s hard to tell who’s enjoying this more, the crowd or Clinton. He keeps going off his prepared remarks. Democrats know how to compromise, Clinton says, while “the far right … seems to hate President Obama.” But he does not hate his opponents, and neither does Obama. “Heck, he even appointed Hillary,” Clinton says. “Democracy does not have to be a blood sport.”
10:52 p.m. Clinton makes the tough economic case for Obama’s re-election. Things were bad in 2008. “No one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years,” Clinton says. “But he has laid the foundation for a new, modern, successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you will renew the President’s contract, you will feel it.” He begins a long list of Obama’s accomplishments in office: the stimulus, the auto bailout, fuel standards, energy, student loans. This goes on for quite some time. Clinton chews over each issue like a bite of expensive steak he’s reluctant to swallow.
11:02 p.m. He spends several minutes explaining why Ryan’s claim that Obama “raided Medicare” is disingenuous. The local newscasts are standing by. The Giants and Cowboys are wrapping up. But Clinton is still going. “Now you’re having a good time, but this is serious,” he says. Clinton is having a good time too, so he spends another three minutes on entitlements. Ryan’s budget is “going to end Medicare as we know it.” Then it’s welfare reform. “It’s a real doozy,” Clinton says. “Here’s what happened …” It’s been 40 minutes since he walked onstage. But the crowd is in a trance. They would follow him anywhere.
11:15 p.m. “Now, let’s talk about the debt.” No one groans, but the cheers aren’t deafening anymore. Clinton’s started another list. Or a sublist. Hard to remember. But Clinton’s still slinging A-grade stuff, going off script, describing himself as a country boy from Arkansas. “We cannot hand the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down,” he says. A roar.
11:20 p.m. Dare to hope. This sounds like a conclusion. “If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Clinton says.
11:23 p.m. It was not the conclusion. “For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back.” He’s taking it in for a landing. “You must vote and you must re-elect President Barack Obama.” Wild applause. Obama emerges from backstage. Clinton bows to the current President. The two men embrace. They leave to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and chants of “O-BA-MA!” We’re done here, but the hall is just getting started. The roll call has begun. Each state will now officially vote to nominate Obama as the Democratic candidate for President. The outcome is not in doubt.
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