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Democratic Convention Diary Day 1: Michelle rocks the conventioneers and the gun show

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Was there another speech last night? Does anyone else remember? What was going on last week in Tampa anyway, that was a lot of press to cover a tropical storm, right? And why was Clint Eastwood there again?

The skies might have opened up over Charlotte before the main speeches started at the Time Warner Cable Center on Tuesday, but the mood in the hall was less grey skies and cold rain and more like lightning and thunder — and that was before First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage, got the crowd on their feet, made them cry and made them stand yet again with her convention speech. Mitt Romney might have gotten a nudge in the polls after three days of celebrating small business people and his own nice-guy Mormon background, but Michelle Obama took the basic format of Ann Romney’s love speech — “My husband is great!” — and showed how it could be used as a political weapon, not a paean.

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But it wasn’t the sheer momentum of the night that differentiated this Tuesday from last Tuesday, though that certainly helped. And it wasn’t the relative reduction in flag-related delegate apparel between last night and last week. The crowds were more diverse by any measure one could see: people of color, young people, rich and poor, gay and straight and everyone in between. Everyone from the cops (some of whom were from as far away as Chicago) to the volunteers to the paid arena staff were incredibly polite and even friendly, delegates were hugging and greeting one another and even as a journalist, people were happy to talk to me. Tampa was a convention, but Charlotte’s a party.

Interestingly, it is also fair to say that there are more protesters in Charlotte than there were in Tampa, though even without a tropical storm, the weather isn’t tremendously better. But there are several factions of Occupy, the Communist Party, anti-abortion protestors and a Jesus Truck out and about making trouble and trying to get some press attention. But with so many legitimate celebrities — I saw Aisha Tyler, Lisa Edelstein, will.i.am and Andrian Grenier by Tuesday alone — and political celebrities willing to chat or at least take a picture, who has time for the guy with the dead baby sign or a few Occupiers intent on having an argument with African-American Iraq veterans?

But, back to the speeches. Michelle Obama was the clear winner, though San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland took second and third place in the hearts of attendees, respectively, and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed to have lost that loving feeling (perhaps he should have cursed more) and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was generally considered a better government-provided sleep-aid than Medicare-covered Ambien.

No matter who else spoke or what was said, like Mitt’s closing night will ever belong to Clint, Tuesday’s convention belonged to Michelle Obama. The real questions is whether Bill Clinton of Joe Biden can top her performance on Wednesday — and whether her husband can do even better on Thursday.

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