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Democrats Gather in Denver for Presidential Convention

Thousands of Democrats are descending on Denver, Colorado, for Monday's opening of the Democratic National Convention. This year's convention will make history by nominating Senator Barack Obama as the party's presidential nominee, the first time that an African-American has been chosen as a major party candidate. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Denver.

Denver was a beehive of activity on the eve of the convention. Democrats arrived from all over the country and security tightened around the sports arena that will serve as a convention hall this week.

A few hundred anti-war protestors marched near the convention site Sunday without incident. Several other demonstrations are expected through the week.

Obama heads into the convention hoping for a boost after selecting Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate.

"He is that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids [Iowa] and the corridors of the Capitol, in the VFW [veterans] Hall in Concord [New Hampshire] and at the center of an international crisis," he said.

Obama appeared with Biden at a campaign rally in Springfield, Illinois, on Saturday.

"He also has the courage, the courage, to make this a better place," Obama said. "And let me tell you something else, this man is a clear-eyed pragmatist who will get the job done."

The highlight of the four-day convention will come Thursday when Senator Obama formally accepts his party's presidential nomination with a highly anticipated speech at a football stadium in front of more than 70,000 people, plus a worldwide television audience.

As the Democratic convention begins, public opinion polls show a close race for the White House between Obama and his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain will be formally nominated at the Republican convention next week in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

Democrats hope that Biden's extensive foreign policy experience in the Senate will help Obama, given public opinion polls that show voters have more confidence in McCain's ability to handle foreign policy and national security issues.

Political analyst Michael Barone says Obama needs a successful convention to show that he is ready to be president.

"He has to establish that he is a plausible commander in chief," he said. "Many voters think he is, but some have their doubts or simply don't know very much about him in that regard."

New polls show Democrats are generally welcoming Biden as Obama's vice presidential pick.

Among those praising the choice was Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, whose name had been mentioned as a possible running mate.

"It shows that Barack Obama is someone who is prepared to bring into his administration talented people from all walks of life who are able to help him move forward," he said CNN's Late Edition program. "But it will be clear that he is the president."

Senator McCain told CBS television that Senator Biden was a wise choice for Obama and will be a formidable opponent.

But the McCain campaign was also quick to release a television ad aimed at disappointed supporters of Obama's former Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton.

"She won millions of votes but isn't on his ticket. Why? For speaking the truth. The truth hurt, and Obama didn't like it," the ad says.

Obama campaign officials are trying to play down any lingering tensions with Clinton supporters this week.

Obama adviser Anita Dunn told CNN that Democrats are focused on unifying the party.

"I think if you talk to people in Denver this week, you are not going to see a lot of a funk [disappointment]," she said. "What you are going to see are a lot of people who know that we can't have four more years of these policies."

Senator Clinton will address the convention on Tuesday. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton will speak on Wednesday, as will Senator Biden.