Convention Countdown: Democrats Prepare for Denver

In just under a week, the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Denver, aiming to deliver a made-for-television political extravaganza culminating in Sen. Barack Obama accepting his party's nomination for president before 80,000 people next Thursday night.

Tens of thousands of people -- party elite including former presidents, governors, senators and congressmen, celebrities like Oprah and Kanye West and Ashley Judd, over 120 bloggers, interest groups, multinational corporations, and media from 130 countries -- are expected to descend on the Mile High City for the Democratic Party's most sustained effort to woo voters until election day.

Democrats Effort Tech-Savvy Convention

New this year, Democrats say, is a major push to use technology to connect with and register new voters.

"We're taking the convention and sort of blowing away the smoke-filled, back-room, insider version of the convention and opening it up to America," Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee Convention, told ABCNews.com, "and we're doing it with technology, by moving the convention outside of the convention hall, and we're doing it with a huge recruitment drive for the Democratic Party."

So-called "technology delegates" are being asked to give up one of their caucus days to register new voters. Democrats are also touting their Denver convention as the "greenest convention ever" and one of the most tech-savvy.

The convention will also feature high-definition streaming video, touch-screen kiosks and HD television monitors throughout the host venue, the Pepsi Center, and three giant Plasma HDTVs prominently placed on the stage.

Each night before the evening news, the party will have 15-minute "webisodes" teeing up the speakers and themes for that night.

"This year's Democratic Convention is more inclusive and accessible than past conventions, in large part because of the complete, live HD streaming video coverage that will be made available on our Web site," said Aaron Myers, the DNC's director of online communications.

"More people than ever before will be part of the convention experience -- watching live or whenever is most convenient. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection."

Google and YouTube will also have a heavy physical presence at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, giving away -- in classic Google style -- free smoothies, massages, and "fireside" policy chats.

They will also provide YouTube "upload booths" where delegates and bloggers can upload photos and video from the convention.

"Primarily the Google area is going to be a filing place for new bloggers and citizen journalists," said Google's Niki Fenwick, who used to work with the McCain campaign.

MySpace is sponsoring a daily cafe and a nearby college campus will also broadcast "The Daily Show" live each day at midnight, starting Tuesday.

Conventions as Political Theater

The Democratic National Committee has had staff in Denver since last summer planning the convention.

Gains the party has made among voters in the Rocky Mountain West were partly responsible for the selection of Colorado as the convention site, the committee said.

The Republicans hold their party convention a week later in Minneapolis/St-Paul -- twin cities in a state that hasn't supported a Republican candidate since President Richard Nixon's landslide reelection in 1972.

Both parties' conventions have been criticized in recent decades as nothing more than highly choreographed television sideshows, with the outcome already known.

The first Democratic National Convention, held in Baltimore in 1832, nominated Andrew Jackson as the party's presidential candidate. Over the next 100 years, conventions -- and their smoke-filled back rooms -- were replete with drama.

But over the years, in no small part due to the introduction of television coverage, political conventions have developed into large-scale pep rallies for the party's nominee, more than forums for a nomination fight.

Fortunately for all those spoiling for drama, this year's bitter primary battle has left some room for political intrigue.

Sen. Hillary Clinton's name will be put in nomination as a symbolic gesture to mollify the 18 million Democrats who voted for her.

It's the first time a losing Democratic presidential candidate has had his or her name formally placed into nomination at the Democratic National Convention since 1992, according to the Democratic National Committee.

After both Clinton's and Obama's names are placed into nomination, there will be a roll call vote. But, Clinton, D-N.Y., has made clear she is voting for Obama and wants her delegates to support him, too.

Clinton, who won 52 percent of women voters over the five-month Democratic primary contest, will speak on Tuesday night on the 88th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920.

Former President Bill Clinton will speak on Wednesday night -- the same night that Obama's yet-to-be-announced vice presidential candidate will deliver his or her acceptance speech.

Democratic Party Unity?

The former president gained widespread media attention recently for defending his behavior during the primaries and offering a less than enthusiastic endorsement of Obama's readiness to be president: "You could argue that no one is ever ready to be president," Bill Clinton told ABC News' Kate Snow in an Aug. 4 interview.

Democrats argue that both Clintons need to demonstrate at the convention that they are solidly behind Obama.

"What's going to matter is what Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton say at the convention," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist. "People are going to listen to what they say and look at their body language and then the convention will be all about Barack Obama."

The tensions during the five-month long primary battle will also be remembered during the debate over the party platform's language.

The platform document gives a nod to Clinton supporters in an extensive section on women's rights that says Clinton's candidacy created "18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling."

Star-Studded Convention: Hollywood Parties, Celebrities Descend on Denver

Parties and celebrities will also be in heavy supply in Denver.

Oprah Winfrey hasn't confirmed her attendance at the convention but she has rented a house in Denver at a cost of $50,000 for seven days over the Aug. 25-28 convention dates.

Bono's One Campaign against HIV-AIDS in developing nations will also be in Denver in full force, parking a campaign bus outside the convention hall.

Music star Kanye West is expected to appear at an invitation-only One Campaign and Recording Industry of America Association on the Wednesday night of the convention.

And Ashley Judd is scheduled to appear at a "Sex, Politics and Cocktails late Night Dance Party" hosted by Planned Parenthood Monday night.

Big Money Backing From Unions, Multinational Corporations

With the eyes of the political world on Denver, unions, lobbyists and multinational corporations are paying big money to play a role at the convention.

Giant multinational companies are preparing to give Democratic delegates swag bags filled with AT&T ringtone cards, Kraft donkey-shaped macaroni and cheese, hand sanitizer by a lobbyist firm, and stress balls by Peabody Coal.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Teachers have each given $500,000 for the convention in Denver.

There is no limit on how much any individual, union, or company can give to a political convention -- a wide campaign finance loophole in the eyes of political watchdog groups.

"These sponsorships are just an extension of a larger lobbying strategy that will continue long after the conventions in Washington when these companies or organizations seek access and influence with policymakers," Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics told ABCNews.com.

Parties and Issues Too: Delegates Debate Platform

Despite the glitz and glamour, the Democratic convention won't be all swag bags and celebrity sightings. The over 5,000 Democratic delegates must also approve a new party platform.

Delegates are poised to approve changes to the party's language on abortion.

The platform pledges to oppose "any and all" efforts to undermine a woman's right to an abortion, while also voicing support for measures intended to reduce unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce the "need" for abortion.

Casey's father was refused a speaking slot at the 1992 convention. The Casey family perceives the 1992 denial as stemming from the former governor's opposition to abortion rights.

Political analysts argue Casey's 2008 speaking role is a symbolic move to attract opponents of abortion rights to the Democratic Party during a year when so-called "values voters" may be disenchanted with the Republicans.

Another controversial issue will be debated when delegates consider repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military policy which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay or lesbian.

It also states the party's opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which blocks federal benefits from flowing to same-sex couples in state-recognized unions and declares that a state is not obliged to recognize a same-sex marriage recognized by another state.

Both policies were enacted under former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

War, Economy Top Democratic Agenda

Anti-war advocates are also seizing on new language in the party platform to highlight Obama's commitment to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

The platform states that Democrats "expect" to complete redeployment "within 16 months," instead of "will complete redeployment" -- reflecting the timeframe that Obama has long proposed but not the pledge once featured on his Web site.

Anti-war advocates are planning protests around the convention hall.

Organizers have taken pains to not repeat what happened 40 years ago at the Democratic convention in 1968 in Chicago, when 2,500 anti-Vietnam war protesters clashed with police outside the convention hall.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the City of Denver over the site and timing of the protests, which are currently slated to be held 700 feet from the convention. The legal battle will be heard this week.

Party Elite Featured in Nightly Speaking Roles

In keeping with Obama's effort to woo religious voters and highlight his Christian faith, on each night of the convention the official program calls for opening and closing prayers from faith leaders, including a Republican pastor of a Florida Evangelical church.

National leaders from a range of denominations will host the convention's first-ever Faith Caucus meetings during the week.

Each night the party will feature several speakers in the Democratic stable, including Obama's wife, Michelle Obama. The prospective first lady has been tapped to speak on opening night on the theme of "One Nation," touting party inclusivity.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will also speak the first night, as will liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., via a five-minute videotaped message.

Kennedy, who lost the 1980 Democratic nomination to former President Jimmy Carter, suffered a seizure in May and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

Hillary Clinton is expected to speak on Tuesday night, where the theme for the Democrats will center on economic opportunity. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, speaks on Wednesday night, as will Obama's vice presidential pick. The Democratic theme for Wednesday night is "Securing America's Future."

The keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention will be former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democratic candidate for the Senate.

Placing Warner in the top speaking role, which Obama held just four years earlier, could help boost his Senate campaign in Virginia, where he is battling to take the seat of retiring Sen. John Warner, R-Va.

On Thursday morning, the DNC is hosting a unity breakfast with Martin Luther King Jr.'s first son, Martin Luther King III, and civil rights leaders including Rev. Al Sharpton.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was overheard criticizing Obama before a television interview, does not have a speaking role at the convention for the first time in years, and isn't currently scheduled to come to the unity breakfast.

The convention ends with Obama's acceptance speech on the Thursday night of the convention before a sold-out crowd of 80,000 people at INVESCO Field at Mile High.

Obama, the nation's first African-American to become a major party's presidential candidate, accepts the Democratic Party's nomination on the 45th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

While Republicans have criticized the unprecedented move as an example of Obama's celebrity status, Democrats argue the speech location will allow them to connect with more voters.

"More than any convention in the past, this convention will highlight the people of this country," Backus said. "You''ll see them playing roles that you've never seen them playing before -- prime-time speaking roles every night of the program, and you're going to literally see them surrounding our nominee the night he accepts his nomination."

ABC News' Teddy Davis contributed to this report.

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