Obama's DNC Message: I'm Like You

This story was written by CBSNews.com political reporter Brian Montopoli.

As officials put the finishing touches on the Pepsi Center, where the Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday, Barack Obama was campaigning in Wisconsin, far from Denver's fanfare.

But the soon-to-be Democratic nominee certainly had the convention on his mind, and he told supporters he hoped to press this message: Despite his meteoric political rise, despite Republican attempts to cast him as an out-of-touch celebrity, and despite the effort being put into crowning him the standard bearer of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama is, ultimately, not so different from those whose votes he hopes to win.

"… I think what you'll conclude is he's sort of like us," Obama said Sunday. "He comes from a middle-class background. He went to school on scholarships; he had to pay off student loans; he and his wife had to worry about child care; we had to figure out, you know, how to start a college fund for their kids."

That theme will come to the forefront on the first day of the convention, which will focus on Obama's life and values and culminate in a speech by Obama's wife, Michelle, that will mark her highest-profile appearance of the campaign.

House Speaker House Nancy Pelosi will also speak Monday, as will Obama's sister Maya Soetero-Ng; Democrats have been holding out hope that Ted Kennedy, who is fighting brain cancer, might even make a surprise appearance. Even if Kennedy doesn't make the trip, the longtime Massachusetts senator will be in the spotlight Monday evening thanks to a planned video tribute. (UPDATE: CBS News has confirmed that Kennedy has made it to Denver, though he presently does not plan to speak at the convention.)

Also in the spotlight Monday - though for a far different reason - will be Hillary Clinton's supporters, whom Republicans hope will display their disappointment that the former first lady is not the Democratic nominee as dramatically as possible. In a CBS News/New York Times poll released Sunday, 42 percent of delegates originally pledged to Clinton said they will vote for her on the convention's presidential roll call. Fewer than half were enthusiastic about Obama's nomination.

John McCain's campaign looked to exploit that dissatisfaction in a new ad, "Passed Over," that suggests Obama selected Delaware Sen. Joe Biden over Clinton as his running mate because the New York senator spoke the truth about Obama's shortcomings.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, set up shop a few blocks away from the Pepsi Center this weekend, where they fought for media coverage and pushed a message that Obama is ill prepared for the presidency.

In an effort to press party unity, Clinton is expected to formally release her delegates to Obama on Wednesday; she responded to the McCain ad in a statement by her spokesman noting that she "has said repeatedly that Barack Obama and she share a commitment to changing the direction of the country, getting us out of Iraq and expanding access to health care. John McCain doesn't. It's interesting how those remarks didn't make it into his ad."

Clinton also praised Obama's choice of Biden, who on Saturday ripped into McCain, his longtime friend in the Senate, painting him as disconnected from the everyday concerns of working class Americans - a charge Republicans have also leveled at Obama.

Delegates, politicians and journalists weren't the only ones descending on Denver over the weekend; protesters also planned for a busy week. Many said they had come to press the Democratic Party to end the war in Iraq.

"We went to war and millions of people have died based on falsities," Val Stepien, who marched through the city's downtown carrying a peace sign Sunday afternoon, told CBS News. "Democrats voted for FISA; Democrats keep voting to fund the war; and we want the leaders of the Democratic Party to take a stand for peace and justice, not just here but all around the world."

Inside the convention center, slender signs for each delegation were dwarfed by large, lighted banners advertising the media that had come to cover the event; organizers estimated that more than 15,000 journalists had come to town for the convention. Because of Biden's selection as running mate, the Delaware delegation was given prime space on the convention floor, while Republicans suggested that the relatively poor real estate given over to Missouri and North Carolina signaled that Obama had given up on those states.

Despite the efforts of the opposition, however, Democrats held out hope that they would emerge from their week in Denver unified and primed for victory in November.

"Democrats gathering here are more optimistic about their party's chances in the general election than they have been from some time," CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs said. "Still, there's an undertow of worry about just how unified the party is in the wake of a bruising primary fight. How enthusiastically Clinton, and more importantly her supporters, embrace the soon-to-be nominee will be perhaps the most closely watched dynamic in Denver."
By Brian Montopoli