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Supporters face long lines, tight security

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER | The Democrats' rendezvous with destiny came only after long waits in long lines and a slow slog through an obstacle course of narrow sidewalks, muddy potholes, steel fences, security barriers, the occasional cackling protesters, overworked security guards and overflowing checkpoints.

On a sun-splashed Rocky Mountain August day, tens of thousands of Democratic delegates, journalists and supporters jammed into Denver's Invesco Field to hear their new champion, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, accept the party's nomination and become the first black presidential nominee of a major political party.

But the simple logistics of getting in the door put a strain on the festivities. The road to history was hardly paved with political gold. It was more like a rocky construction site.

Some tried to beat the crowd, enduring a full day of bright Colorado sunshine to ensure a seat for Mr. Obama's evening address.

Denver-area music teachers Kristen Schacht and Beth Schoening took the day off, arriving at 9 a.m. for a speech that would start nearly 12 hours later.

"We want to be first," said Miss Schacht, shielding her eyes from the fierce midday sun.

"It was worth it," added Miss. Schoening. "I feel we are witnessing history."

Many in the crowd pointed to the significance of the speech falling on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Lonnie M. Randolph, a state senator-elect from Indiana, said Mr. Obama's nomination proved how far the nation has come since that August 1963 day.

"It's an evening leading to the culmination of the dream Dr. King had 45 years ago," Mr. Randolph said.

But the extraordinary security surrounding the event - held a mile from the convention hall where Democratic delegates officially nominated Mr. Obama Wednesday evening - proved trying at times for the vast throngs. Pro football's Denver Broncos play at the stadium and regularly handle sellout crowds and lots full of tailgating fans.

But security officials shut off many of the entrances used by football fans, creating a crush of humanity lined up in columns several football-fields long outside the gates.

"We normally can fill this stadium with 70,000 people in just an hour or two when the Broncos play. Tonight, it will take two to three times that," said one Denver police officer standing guard outside the stadium, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Mr. Obama got his open-air address, cooperative weather and a dramatic column-lined backdrop, but convenience for his audience was forced to take a back seat.

Still, hopeful Democrats tried to make the best of it as they waited for the show to begin.

Merchants peddled the parallels between King and Mr. Obama, with pictures of the two on T-shirts selling for $25. For $50, souvenir hunters could pick up a basketball jersey which read "Denver 2008 - Day of Change."

By late afternoon, police were telling high-spirited delegates, many sporting large hats, buttons and signs, that from the back of the line it could take two hours or more before they finally reached their seats, even with the stadium entrance clearly visible.

People standing in lines shared sun-block lotion, and when two officers spotted an elderly woman trying to climb a steep hill just to reach the back of the line, they gently took her by the arms and escorted her to a more accessible entrance.

As the hour for Mr. Obama's speech approached, the stadium took on the anticipatory air of a major sporting event or rock concert. Supporters did the wave in the stands and took countless photos of themselves and the scene to capture the historic night.

In addition to yet more warm-up political oratory as the Democrats wrapped up their four-day convention, musical stars provided entertainment as the huge throngs settled in.

Among them: John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, and "Dream Girls" star Jennifer Hudson, who sang the National Anthem.

Amid the light-hearted festivities, there were some who said the evening carried much more momentous historical overtones.

"People shouldn't forget why they're here," said veteran civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, an associate of King's and a former candidate for the Democratic nomination himself.

"It has been a 45-year marathon," he said. "Barack Obama is running the anchor."