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Democratic Convention Paints All-American Image for Obama


Perhaps the most important goal Democrats have at their presidential nominating convention in the western state of Denver, Colorado is to project an all-American image for their candidate, Barack Obama. The four-night convention will give Democrats an opportunity to introduce Obama to a television audience of at least 20 million people, and they are launching an all-out effort to make Americans comfortable with a candidate who comes from a very unusual background. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details in this report from Denver.

Democrats hope Barack Obama, a first-term U.S. Senator, will make history as the first African-American president of the United States.

The 47-year-old Obama is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother. He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia..

His uncommon life story, coupled with his race and foreign-sounding name, add challenges that are unprecedented for a presidential nominee.

Obama has said openly that his biography is not typical of a modern American president, and he has acknowledged that his race will be a burden in winning over some voters.

Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, says the candidate's personal story will be a core message at the convention.

"The son of a single mother, working his way up, and then going back to work in communities that were felled by steel plant closings, we are going to tell that story," he said. "But we are also going to tell the story about what has happened to the country under the policies we have seen under the broken politics of Washington. We are not going to shy away from making a contrast."

So during the Denver convention Obama's wife and numerous speakers will introduce him to the electorate as a family man with American values.

The candidate will then try to build on that message and try to define the election as a time for change.

"At this defining moment in our history, with our nation at war, our economy in recession, we know that the American people can not afford four more years of the same failed policies and the same old politics in Washington," Obama said.

Professor Robert Dudley is the head of the government and politics department at George Mason University.

He says the two strategic objectives of the convention are to make the American voters comfortable with Obama and clearly tie Republican candidate John McCain with the policies of the Bush administration at home and overseas.

"He needs to demonstrate that he is a person of strength, that the line that he is inexperienced is not applicable to him, and he needs to tie his opponent to the current administration," said Dudley.

Analysts say the other critical task the Democrats face here in Denver is to unite their party after the bruising primary contests between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is scheduled to address the convention and Professor Dudley of George Mason University says her speech will be critical.

"I think Obama will still have a difficult time with some of the Clinton supporters," he said. "I do not think it will be easy even with Hillary supporting Obama. I think it will be a difficult time for some of her supporters. They may never come around and if they do it still may be late in the campaign before they do."

The Democratic convention will be the first time many Americans will pay attention to the general election campaign, and surveys show the race is very close.

Democrats hope the carefully choreographed nightly programs will polish Senator Obama's image while giving him a measurable surge, or bounce, in opinion polls when he leaves Denver and focuses on the November election.