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Starting Gate: Miles High

DENVER – The road to Denver hasn't been an easy or terribly pleasant journey at times but the Democrat Party arrives here this week with mile high expectations for victory in November. For the first time in a long time, many Democrats believe that the time is ripe not only to take back a White House that has been occupied by Republicans for most of the past 40 years, but to reshape the entire political landscape at the same time. Still, there are not a few challenges and pitfalls awaiting the party this week:
  • The Clinton Factor: Make no mistake about one thing – modern political conventions are so scripted, so staged and so micro-managed that even the slightest hint of conflict is where the media's attention is going to be. Republicans learned this lesson the hard way in the 1990s when the press paid more attention to platform fights on the abortion issue than anything that was happening at the podium.

    Lingering divisions from the primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have filled that role at the outset of this convention. Questions about unity grew even stronger last week when it was suggested that the Obama campaign never really even considered Clinton for his running mate, despite pretty clear signals that Clinton was pleased with the selection of Joe Biden.

    How divided does the party remain? A CBS News/New York Times survey of delegates gives a hint, showing that 20 percent of the delegates coming to Denver plan on voting for Clinton on the first ballot of the roll call vote. That's not an insignificant number but far below the nearly half she won during the primaries. And it's less clear whether those votes would be a "last-stand" effort or one of loyalty to a candidate they supported for so long last winter and spring. Clinton reportedly will "release" her delegates this week, something that could decrease her numbers further.

    Clinton herself has suggested that the party needs a "cathartic" moment to cleanse any remaining bad blood between the two camps. If the Obama can come out of Denver with even a little more enthusiasm from Clinton supporters, it will be a victory.

  • Introductions: One of the reasons John McCain's line of attack on Obama's "celebrity" has apparently been successful is that many American voters still only know the nominee from magazine covers and made-for-TV picturesque events. Polls show that voters certainly have reservations about the Senator from Illinois and this convention is a chance to help fill in some of those holes.

    That is why we'll see and hear a lot from people who've known Obama throughout his life and why his wife, Michelle, will play such an important role tonight at the outset. Even more so than the candidate, Michelle Obama remains relatively unknown to most voters. Tonight's speech will launch her re-introduction to America and if there's one speech you won't want to miss today, it's this one.

  • Biden Time: Has it really been just a couple days since Obama unveiled his vice presidential choice? The risk of waiting until the wee hours of a Saturday morning to unveil the choice was getting little of the full-press media coverage traditionally awarded such an event. The selection hasn't gone unnoticed by any means but it already feels a bit underwhelming.

    Biden's real roll-out is going to be this week. He'll be greeted enthusiastically by the delegates here but still has some work to do to convince average Democratic voters – particularly those white, blue-collar and Catholic voters who favored Clinton in places like Ohio – that he was the smart choice. And it's worth remembering that Biden has had just less than a week to write and prepare for arguably the biggest speech of his life. That's pressure.

  • Balance And Ghosts Of Campaigns Past: Can the party walk the line between presenting a positive message and hammering Republicans? The over/under line on how many times we'll hear about John McCain's "seven houses" has to be in the hundreds. But while some of those attacks are funs and necessary for firing up the party, it also has the effect of firing up the other side – which remains a little cautious about their own presumptive nominee.

    Another aspect of the convention sure to get Republicans to forget their reservations about McCain will be the prevalence of some of their favorite Democratic targets of the past – like Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter (Ted Kennedy may get somewhat of a pass on conservative talk radio). As much as Obama has tried to remake the image of the Democratic Party on national security and issues of faith, victory in blue states like Colorado weren't won in a day. Getting out of the convention with some new luster to the Democratic brand would be a great achievement going into November.