A Democratic Party that came to Denver with questions of division looming did its best to put forward a show of unity on the first day of its nominating convention. It was a night about defining Barack Obama, and Democrats made sure to stay on message.
The theme of the night was, "One Nation," but it may as well have been, "One Party." The focus was stuck on the candidate who will formally accept the nomination on Thursday, and pointedly not on the adversary he fought off and whose presence is still the talk of the convention.
Party leaders past and present paraded across the stage on Monday, interspersed with average Americans, friends and family, all of whom sought to introduce Obama to a nation of voters who still seem unfamiliar with him. There was former President Jimmy Carter, who appeared briefly on stage to wave to the crowd. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the audience as well as Obama's sister and a parade of Illinois politicians.
Obama's wife, Michelle, delivered a heartfelt speech that focused on her life story and his, delving into hardships and triumphs the couple have faced. She delivered testimony designed to drive home the dominant point the campaign is looking to deliver in Denver - that Barack Obama is just like you. (Michelle Obama's Speech:
"In the end, after all that's happened these past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago," Michelle told a national television audience. "He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love."
But if Michelle gave the personal story, it was Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy's surprise appearance on stage that proved to be the most emotional, and symbolic, moment. Battling brain cancer, Kennedy almost didn't make it to Denver, let alone the stage. The convention floor broke into thunderous cheers when he appeared, introduced by the last direct link to the days of Camelot, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. (Ted Kennedy's Speech:
Symbolically handing over a mantle that stretches 40 years, Kennedy said, "This November the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. So with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."
Conspicuously missing was the politician who narrowly missed making this her convention and whose supporters continue to stoke stories of division. Even on the morning of the convention's kick-off, the stories that dominated the news were about tensions between Obama and Hillary Clinton's camp over her role - and that of her husband - in Denver.
The fact that the line of Democratic leadership, from Kennedy to Carter to Pelosi, was paraded across the stage without the Clintons said volumes about what the campaign wanted Monday night. For a year and a half, Obama's name has been intertwined with Clinton's. Tonight, the separation was clear and purposeful.
The Clintons will have their moments in the spotlight in Denver. Hillary Clinton will speak Tuesday night and former President Bill Clinton appears on Wednesday. There are signs that a protractedand that a fractious floor demonstration will never happen.
But Monday night was for declaring Obama the new face of the Democratic Party, a party he will now lead, at least into November - if not longer.