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CONVENTION WATCH: Here comes Barack, the Bidens

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave to delegates after his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wave to delegates after his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012.
Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

WAITING FOR BARACK

First lady Michelle Obama is sitting in a seat on the floor of the convention hall, between her mother and Jill Biden, as Vice President Biden gives his speech to the delegates. Mrs. Obama is wearing an off-the-shoulder purple and white dress. Seated behind her are her brother and the president's half-sister and other family members of the Obamas and the Bidens. They include Biden's son, Beau, Delaware's attorney general, who formally put his father's name in for nomination.

The president's daughters, Sasha and Malia, are expected to join their mother and father on stage after his speech — but they are not sitting with their mother at the moment. The first lady's group is just off the stage, on the convention hall floor, in front of the first group of delegates.

— Sally Buzbee

FREESTYLING BIDEN

Joe Biden is known for freestyling occasionally when he talks. And he did it a lot Thursday night, though in minor ways.

A text of his prepared remarks distributed in advance turned out to be more like a roadmap than a script for Biden, who reworked sentences on the fly, added a few of his own and generally talked rather than recited. Nothing major to speak of, but the "as delivered" version of his remarks will most certainly have a lot of words than the advance text didn't

Is that simply political authenticity, or is it a nailbiter for the Democratic message masters who worry that an off-the-cuff Biden can be — as they've seen in the past — an embarrassing Biden?

— Ted Anthony — http://twitter.com/anthonyted

VEEP CLUB

He may have been 1,000 miles away but former Vice President Walter Mondale had a front-row seat for Vice President Joe Biden's national convention speech.

Mondale joined more than 100 others in a University of Minnesota auditorium Thursday night to watch Biden accept his party's nomination for another term. It played on a big screen.

The event, to be capped by President Barack Obama's speech, was an organizing tool for the president's campaign in which students were encouraged to sign up to vote and volunteer.

Few in the mostly college-aged crowd were even born when Mondale ran for president in 1984 and won only his native Minnesota.

— Brian Bakst — Twitter http://twitter.com/Stowydad

MUSHY STUFF

There's a lot of love in the air at the Democratic convention. At least between Joe and Jill Biden.

The vice president's wife was full of tender praise as she introduced her husband, telling the crowd she loved him from the start even though "I didn't agree to marry him until the fifth time he asked me."

When the vice president took the stage, things got a little mushy. He opened his remarks with a shout-out to "Jilly." If she hadn't said yes to that fifth marriage proposal, he said, he just didn't know what he would have done with himself.

The tender words didn't last long, though. Biden quickly launched into his prepared speech, a full-throated defense of President Barack Obama and a sharp critique of Republican rival Mitt Romney.

— Julie Pace — Twitter http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

LOOSER KERRY

Sen. John Kerry was way looser — and more full of quips — in his Democratic National Convention speech than he ever was when running for president himself.

Taking several sharp prods at Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic candidate quipped that for Romney, "an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas,"

Romney's trip to Europe was marked by several gaffes, including his questioning of whether Britain was ready for the London Olympics.

"It wasn't a goodwill mission," Kerry quipped. "It was a blooper reel."

Kerry famously took the podium and gave an exaggerated salute as he accepted the party's nomination in 2004. He lost to President George W. Bush, who won re election.

— Sally Buzbee

CELEBRITY WATCH

President Barack Obama and Republican running mate Paul Ryan are just two regular guys — with plenty of famous friends.

Obama's celebrity buddies were taking the stage at his convention, while Ryan was mingling with high-dollar donors at a Beverly Hills, Calif., fundraiser Thursday night.

Actresses Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington each had speaking roles at the Democratic Party's convention in Charlotte. "Mad Men" actor Jon Hamm and his girlfriend, actress-writer-director Jennifer Westfeldt, were also spotted in the crowd.

— Julie Pace — http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

QUICKQUOTE: BIDEN

"We're on a mission to move this nation forward — from doubt and downturn to promise and prosperity." — Vice President Joe Biden, accepting the nomination for a second term.

DEAD? NO MATTER

Even death doesn't keep political heroes away from party conventions.

Ronald Reagan, Edward M. Kennedy and Geraldine Ferraro — they've all made video appearances at either the Democratic or Republican conventions. Their images — captured in the years of their political glory — rekindle warm memories and stir political passions. The videos are part of the toolkit that both parties use to rouse their supporters and encourage voters to get to the polls.

It turns out that dead villains have a place at the convention, too. Terror leader Osama bin Laden, for instance. He's been mentioned numerous times at the Democratic convention to show that President Barack Obama is tough on terrorists and national security. His image even flashed briefly during a video about his killing.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, turning the tables on a Republican criticism of Obama, drew cheers Thursday by suggesting that the now-dead bin Laden be asked if he's better off now than he was four years ago.

— Terence Hunt — Twitter http://twitter.com/terence942

EMPTY RAFTERS

The rafters are yawningly empty — no balloons caught up in nets and ready to be dropped. Instead, steel girders sit bare high above the floor of the arena where the Democrats are holding their national convention.

Party officials were caught flat-footed on the balloon front when they moved the last night of their convention — and President Barack Obama's big speech — from an outdoor football stadium to the arena where they'd held the first two nights of their convention, because of weather worries.

There wasn't time to order balloons to drop from the ceiling as the traditional end of an indoor convention celebration, organizers said.

Never fear, however.

Party officials have promised some other type of festive end-of-night prop.

— Sally Buzbee

MILITARY SHOW

It was a show of military force. Retired officers and veterans stood on stage at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night as much to praise President Barack Obama's national security record as to remind viewers what was missing from the Republican convention last week.

In accepting his party's nomination, Mitt Romney was the first Republican since 1952 who didn't mention a nation at war. In fact, neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, said anything about the ongoing war on terrorism or the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats have used their convention to focus on Obama's military and foreign policies for which the president gets high marks in opinion polls. They've repeatedly shown the video of Obama informing the nation that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

On Thursday night, retired Adm. John B. Nathman spoke out for Obama, surrounded by veterans for past and current wars. Delegates held up signs that read, "Thank you."

— Donna Cassata — Twitter http://twitter.com/donnacassataAP

OBAMA ARRIVES

Just in from AP's Ben Feller in the White House press pool: President Barack Obama is in the convention hall for his speech later Thursday night.

ANOTHER TAKE ON KERRY

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, knows how a campaign can come undone. His did, and on Thursday night he tried to undo Mitt Romney's not just with a similar tack, but with a line that was as self-effacing as it was brutally efficient. For months during his campaign Kerry was dogged by his remark that when it came to voting for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

"It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan," Kerry told delegates at the Democratic National Convention. "He has every position... He said it was "tragic" to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should've intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters' questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a 'better place' because the intervention succeeded."

Then Kerry slipped in the shiv: " Talk about being for it before you were against it!"

The knowing crowd roared knowingly.

__ Jim Kuhnhenn

EPICENTER OF CRAZINESS

On the last night on the Democratic convention, a Charlotte corner about three blocks from Time was the epicenter of just about all the craziness one of the biggest political parties in the world had to offer.

On the corner of East Fifth Street and College Street, people shut out of the convention were being preached at by abortion foes with graphic pictures of dead fetuses.

One block to the north and west, protesters stopped during their final nightly march in front of hundreds of police officers and dozens of people snapping pictures and video on their cellphones. They chanted "Whose street? Our street!" And "this is a peaceful march!".

All along the blocks to the south, merchants were slashing prices on President Barack Obama buttons, T-shirts, books, towels trailer hitch covers and even air fresheners.

And just past that was the sand sculpture of the president which survived four days of sultry Southern storms — and was still smiling.

— Jeffrey Collins — Twitter http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

NEW TWIST

Sen. John Kerry added a new twist to the "are you better off" question.

"Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago!" Kerry told the Democratic National Convention Thursday night. Democrats had struggled this past week with the "are you better off than you were four years ago" question, with some in the party suggesting the answer was no, then insisting it was yes. Kerry, the party's nominee in 2004, said the nation is better off because of President Barack Obama's order to get the al-Qaida leader.

In 2004, Kerry was ridiculed by Republicans as a flip-flopper as they seized on his remark that he was for legislation before he was against it. In a bit of self-deprecation, Kerry turned the tables on that line, citing what he called Romney's shifts on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

"Talk about being for it before you were against it," Kerry said to cheers and laughter. "Mr. Romney — here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!"

— Donna Cassata — Twitter http://twitter.com/donnacassataAP

CARDINAL'S RULE: NONPARTISAN

The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is scheduled to give the benediction at the close of the Democratic National Convention, just after President Barack Obama speaks.

Dolan, of course, did the same at the Republicans' meeting last week in Tampa, Fla. Afterward he gave an interview stressing that he was nonpartisan and would be happy to do both conventions. Democrats invited him.

The church has had some tense moments recently with Obama's administration over the issue of his health care law, and whether it can require religiously affiliated institutions to offer their employees contraception.

— Sally Buzbee

CONVENTION HALL: CLOSED

For the second night in a row, Democratic convention officials have shut down both entrances to the convention hall a few hours before the main speakers took the stage.

The doors opened Wednesday in time for attendees to see Bill Clinton. People outside Thursday are hopeful it will happen again before President Barack Obama spoke.

Authorities stationed at the gates are refusing to answer questions. Some in the crowd say they've been told the arena was full. Others say fire marshals are just counting how many were inside before letting more people in.

The fire marshal ordered the doors shut just after 8 p.m. Convention organizers say the arena is set up to accommodate 15,000 for Obama's remarks. Of course, that's a far smaller crowd than had been expected at the 74,000-seat outdoor stadium where Obama had planned to accept the nomination. Obama cited the potential for severe weather as the reason for the switch.

Outside the convention hall, Kentucky delegate Colmon Elridge got stuck after coming outside to give a credentials to a friend. "If I don't get back in, that's OK. It's been a lot of fun. And out here I'm surrounded by like-minded people and I'm making new friends," Elridge said.

People at both checkpoints are calm, although they are massed at the gate at one and in a line more than 100 people deep at the other.

— Jeffrey Collins and Julie Pace — Twitter http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP and http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

DON'T CUT MY TAXES

Eva Longoria says she doesn't want a tax cut from Mitt Romney.

"The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers she needed a tax break," the actress says. "But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not."

Longoria, best known for her role on TV's "Desperate Housewives," told Democratic delegates about the jobs she once worked — changing oil in an auto shop, fast food cook, aerobics instructor — to pay back her student loans.

The middle class shouldn't have to pay higher taxes while wealthier Americans get tax cuts under Romney's plan, she said.

— Connie Cass —Twitter http://twitter.com/ConnieCass

GRANHOLM REVS IT UP

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm knows how to rev up a crowd.

Granholm energized the delegates with a sharp-tongued speech about Obama's decision to bail out automakers General Motors and Chrysler and Romney's opposition to the plan.

Granholm, now a Current TV host, ripped into Romney's California home redesign, saying, "in Romney's world, the cars get the elevator, the workers get the shaft." Fist-pumping her arms and waving them over her head, Granholm brought delegations from Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and more to their feet as she recited the number of jobs saved in their states by the bailout." By her speech's end, her face and neck were crimson from shouting.

"America, let's rev our engines!" Granholm cried as the crowd started chanting, "USA!"

— Ken Thomas — http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

'GABBY! GABBY!'

She sounded strong. She sounded ... mostly recovered. Gabby Giffords led the Democratic National Convention in the pledge of allegiance — and, for the crowd, what a moment it was.

To deafening cheers, the former congresswoman walked tentatively onto the stage 1½ years after being shot in the head in an attack in her district in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and injured 13. On Thursday night, Democrats in the arena grinned, and some wept openly, as Giffords summoned a clear and emphatic voice: "I pledge allegiance ..."

Giffords clasped her hands together and stumbled slightly only once — on the word "indivisible" — before finishing with a flourish.

It was hard to imagine this moment if you were watching the news coverage in January 2011, when a gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Tucson while Giffords was holding an event for her constituents. It was hard to imagine this moment when the first photos of her after the shooting emerged, or when Americans first heard her stilted voice as she battled back from her injuries.

"Gabby! Gabby!" the crowd shouted. After reciting the pledge, Giffords walked off much as she had entered — ramrod straight but tentative, limping slightly, smiling broadly. As she moved offstage she turned, blowing kisses to the crowd. And then Gabrielle Giffords, former congresswoman, was gone.

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted

GIFFORDS IS BACK

Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords received thunderous applause when she walked gingerly on stage accompanied by her friend, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Giffords smiled and waved to the crowd and then led the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range while meeting with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket in January 2011. Six people were killed and 13 people were injured, including Giffords.

Giffords walked slowly, maintaining her balance as she blew kisses and waved to delegates after the pledge. The crowd started chanting — "Fired up — ready go to!" as she departed.

— Ken Thomas — Twitter http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

QUICKQUOTE: SCARLETT JOHANSSON

"When I was a little girl, my mother, a registered Democrat, she would take me into the polling booth, and tell me which buttons to press and when to pull the lever. Is that even legal? I don't know. I don't think so. Anyway, I remember the excitement I felt in that secret box, and I felt like my mom's vote wasn't just about the candidate, it was about our family — and all the families in our community just like ours. This last election, I finally got to punch those buttons for real. For me! I was so excited, I wore my 'I voted' pin the whole day. It was my finest accessory." — actress Scarlett Johansson, speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

QUICKQUOTE: KERRY WASHINGTON

"Look, I get it, right: Whether it's school, work, family, we've all got a lot on our minds. People say, we've all heard people say, 'I'm just too busy to think about politics.' But here's the thing: You may not be thinking about politics, but politics is thinking about you." — actress Kerry Washington, speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

ANTICIPATION

The Democratic National Convention has a more crowded and excited feel on this, its final night, as the audience waits for the big moment: President Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Every seat looks full and the fire marshal has periodically closed the hall when it reaches capacity, opening it again as people come and go.

The seats where the media sit are fuller than any other night so far, and volunteers and ushers are having to constantly move spectators and delegates from aisles as they try to snap photos.

So far, the program is toggling between revving the crowd up with rock music, then calming them down through videos of people's testimonials about the president and political speeches.

— Sally Buzbee

SMOOTHER THIS TIME

This time, the voice vote went more smoothly for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democrats' national political convention.

On Wednesday night, Villaraigosa caused some controversy when he ruled in favor of an amendment adding a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital back into the party's official platform — even though the voice vote was ambiguous. Three times, the Los Angeles mayor called for a voice vote and each time, as many robust "Nays" sounded in the arena as "Ayes." Villaraigosa grimaced after the third try, then ruled the amendment passed as some in the audience booed.

Thursday night's voice vote in favor of Vice President Joe Biden's nomination by acclimation went better. When Villaraigosa called for the "Ayes," the arena filled with a roar. As for the "Nays," the silence was complete.

— Sally Buzbee