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CONVENTION WATCH: Giffords, Kerry, Obama in wings

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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.

CONVENTION HALL: CLOSED

For the second night in a row, Democratic convention officials have ashut 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 hads 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

BIN LADEN BETTER OFF?

"Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago." — John Kerry, U.S. senator from Massachusetts and 2004 Democratic nominee for president, speaking at the Democratic National Convention.

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

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BIDEN NOMINATES BIDEN

Joe Biden, the current vice president of the United States, has been nominated to be the next vice president of the United States as well — by his son, Beau.

"We do have promises to keep," said the younger Biden, Delaware's attorney general. "And my dad and Barack Obama are keeping them. And yes, we have miles to go before we sleep, but Joe Biden and Barack Obama are leading the way forward."

He called Joe Biden "my father, my hero."

The vice president looked on from his seat, wiping his eyes and appearing to choke up. Then, to applause, he stood, visibly moved. "Your son calls you a hero, you gotta feel it in the heart," said the convention's chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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

FIRED UP

Obama's campaign whipped up the convention crowd by showing a short film featuring the president and the South Carolina woman who coined the chant, "Fired up, ready to go."

As the video about Edith Childs was wrapping up, delegates started chanting the campaign battle cry.

Campaign manager Jim Messina then took the podium, encouraging supporters to register to vote and contribute $10 by text message.

Messina says the campaign has made 44 million phone calls, knocked on 3.8 million doors and registered 1 million voters.

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

OBAMA'S COALITION

Political junkies know Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 with broad margins of victory among the young, new voters and Hispanics, and he's trying to renew their enthusiasm. But the exit polls from 2008 reveal a few other shifts that aren't always mentioned:

—You may know that Obama improved on 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's share of the vote among women by 5 points. But he grew support among men by exactly the same amount.

—Obama gained 10 points on Kerry's support among those at the lowest end of the income scale. Among those at the highest end, with family incomes of $200,000 or more, he gained 17 percentage points.

—Obama did just 3 points better than Kerry among independents. Vote among partisans didn't change much either, but there were fewer Republicans in the 2008 electorate than in 2004.

—Among working voters, Obama outperformed Kerry by 10 points, among working women, it was 9 points.

—And regionally, Obama saw the biggest improvements in the West (outscoring Kerry by 7 points) and the Midwest (a 6-point gain).

FAMILY AFFAIR

Singer Mary J. Blige used her performance at the Democratic National Committee to promote family values — for a very extended family.

Blige generated cheers when she told delegates to "make it a family affair and get it crunk for President Obama for four more years."

Blige rocked the house with her cover of U2's "One," and her hit, "Dance 4 Me."

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

AKIN'S TWEETS

Todd Akin is using former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's appearance at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night to pitch donors and take a shot at GOP leaders who have abandoned his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri.

Akin says on his Twitter account that GOP leaders rallied around Crist when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Florida two years ago during a Republican primary that also featured Marco Rubio.

Rubio, a tea party favorite, went on to win the seat and spoke during prime time at last week's Republican convention. Meanwhile, Crist is now endorsing Obama and is widely considered a future Democratic candidate for political office.

Akin tweeted "2010: GOP Party Bosses say 'Charlie Crist is the best candidate.' 2012: Crist speaks at (hash)DNC2012. Chip in & fight bac." Earlier, he had said to watch the Crist speech and "remember the corrupt party bosses wanted him as a GOP Senator."

Missouri was considered a top takeover state for Republicans hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, but GOP leaders have dropped their financial support after he made a comment about women being able to thwart pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." He subsequently apologized.

— Kevin Freking — Twitter http://twitter.com/APKFreking

MODERN FAMILY

Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old activist raised by lesbian parents in the Midwest, got a speaking slot Thursday evening at the Democratic Convention and is sharing some intimate family history.

"People want to know what it's like having lesbian parents," Wahls says. "I'll let you in on a secret: I'm awesome at putting the seat down."

He went on to praise President Barack Obama for endorsing same-sex marriage, and to criticize Republican nominee Mitt Romney for opposing it.

"Mr. Romney," Wahls says, "my family is just as real as yours."

It was by no means Wahls' first foray into the political spotlight. Back in high school, he wrote an op-ed for Iowa's largest newspaper, advocating legalization of same-sex marriage. Last year, he addressed an Iowa legislative hearing, speaking out against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

And this year, as a former Eagle Scout, Wahls had been leading a national protest campaign — thus far unsuccessful — to pressure the Boy Scouts of America into scrapping their ban on gay members and adult volunteers.

— David Crary — Twitter http://twitter.com/CraryAP

THAT WOULD'VE BEEN WET

"I would've enjoyed the stadium, but if it was pouring I would not want to be in there for the six hours of speeches." — Democratic delegate Grifynn Clay of Snohomish, Wash., on the original venue for President Barack Obama's speech Thursday night.

SINGING FROM A CHAIR

A political convention. A celebrity. An empty chair. Don't worry, says singer James Taylor, there's nothing to fear.

A week after Clint Eastwood appeared at the Republican National Convention and created a mini-phenomenon — replete with its own Twitter meme — by talking to a chair on stage, Taylor couldn't resist a joke at the actor and director's expense as he opened up the final night of the Democratic convention.

"It's an empty chair, it makes you nervous," Taylor told the convention as he took the stage. "Don't worry — I'm going to sit on it. I'm not going to talk to it."

Taylor promptly plopped down and launched into one of his most famous hits "Carolina in My Mind," a particularly apropos tune given the convention's host state.

The crooner rose from his chair after finishing that song, only to play a few more upbeat songs.

"I'm an old white guy, and I love Barack Obama," Taylor said.

— Henry C. Jackson — Twitter http://twitter.com/hjacksonap

MARATHON WORRIES

Democrats may believe there is much to fault Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan about. But in the eyes of former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, Ryan may not be as vulnerable over his spending cuts or criticism that he may have misled voters about a GM plan closing as he is over something else.

"What's going to kill him is lying about his marathon time," Dean said on "CBS This Morning."

"You get branded as someone you can't trust."

Ryan, a former fitness instructor, recently told a radio host that he ran a marathon in less than three hours. He later corrected the record after Runner's World magazine found evidence he had completed one marathon, in 1990, and finished in just over four hours. Ryan laughed off the initial misstatement, saying it was a long time ago and he had forgotten his exact time.

— Hope Yen

BETTER THAN 4 YEARS AGO?

Are Democrats here in Charlotte insulted by the taunts Republicans are throwing at them? Well, sure, but at least the derision is boosting the economy.

One street vendor near the convention center was drawing customers Thursday with exuberant shouts of "More T-shirts than four years ago!" That was a play on the Republicans' pointed question to voters: "Are you better off than four years ago" when Barack Obama took office? And sales were quite brisk for stacks of brand-new shirts showing a seated Obama and the slogan: "This seat is taken," a retort to Clint Eastwood's mock questioning of an invisible president in an empty chair at last week's GOP convention.

Vendors have sold loads of campaign buttons this week, but they've got lots left, too. On the convention's last day, some were still going for $2.50, but at least one seller was in inventory-clearance mode with delegates leaving town: "All buttons one dollar," he was shouting. "Everything on this table one dollar!"

— Robert Furlow — Twitter http://twitter.com/furl442

WHO BUILT THAT?

About that presidential comment to business owners that "You didn't build that" ...

President Barack Obama says he stands by his point — that government plays a huge supporting role for businesses.

But now that Republicans have been ridiculing the comment for weeks, Obama allows that maybe he could have phrased it better.

"Obviously, I have regrets for my syntax," Obama said in a taped television interview with WWBT in Norfolk, Va.

"But not for the point, because everyone who was there watching knows exactly what I was saying."

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac

CLINTON RENAISSANCE?

Bill Clinton's fiery 48-minute convention speech on Wednesday night is stoking superlatives about the former president — not to mention renewed chatter about the presidential chances of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, should she opt to run in 2016.

Speaking on "CBS This Morning," two former Democratic National Committee chairmen, former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont and former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, couldn't stop heaping enough praise when asked about Clinton. Some excerpts, paraphrased:

Dean: He has a great connection.

Rendell: He's become like everyone's wise old uncle.

Dean: A phenomenon. The greatest since Franklin Roosevelt.

Rendell: The only communicator who comes close in the modern era is Ronald Reagan.

Dean: There's only one Bill Clinton.

As to Hillary Rodham Clinton's chances in 2016, both Dean and Rendell were quick to agree when asked about a scenario even where Vice President Joe Biden chooses to run.

Rendell: If she wants it, the field just goes away.

— Hope Yen

GABFEST

Sensing a mini trend:

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, known to all as Gabby, will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic convention on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the pledge-leader was Olympic champion Gabby Douglas.

— Nancy Benac — Twitter http://twitter.com/nbenac