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DENVER – New Mexico’s Debra Haaland from Laguna Pueblo near Albuquerque was one of just four first-time delegates invited to officially greet presumptive first lady Michelle Obama’s plane Sunday.
“I know New Mexico is sought after – they’re really trying to make our state blue this year so we are important to them,” Haaland said. “I’m thrilled to be here and when I met Michelle Obama at the airport she was so warm and friendly. She hugged me. She spent a little time with me and with each of the other three delegates and with about 15 nonprofit leaders.”
Haaland, 47, has been involved in politics for a long time, she said, and is currently working to help get Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., elected to the U.S. Senate.
“This is the first time I’ve run to be a delegate because – you know – well, it’s Barack isn’t it?” she said. “He has really inspired me.”
Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean officially opened the convention Monday, setting out the rules and the goal to elect the “next president of the United States , Barack Obama.”
“We are the most vibrant, inclusive and most energized party,” Dean told the cheering crowd. “America understands that we cannot have the same four more years of this ineffective approach to government.”
Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng addressed the crowd telling what it was like to grow up with a brother who was always special.
Potential first lady Michelle Obama’s older brother Craig Robinson spoke of growing up with his special sister and mentioned how proud their father would be if he were still alive and at the convention in that moment.
Caroline Kennedy introduced a five-minute video tribute to her uncle Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-MA. The senator was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor recently and underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
“I’m here to pay tribute to two men who have changed my life and the life of America,” she said. “Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy.”
Not expected at the convention, Kennedy surprised and delighted delegates when he showed up earlier in the day at the Massachusetts caucus. Monday evening, he was overwhelmed with a convention full of people standing and waving thousands of blue and white Kennedy signs high in the air and chanting “Teddy” over and over.
Following his tribute, Kennedy, who appeared sharp and healthy, promised the crowd he would be at Obama’s inauguration in January.
“For me, this is a season of hope - new hope - for justice and prosperity for many and not just a few,” Kennedy said.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn made an appearance on stage following a short video of his life’s work of service to others.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the nation’s first female speaker of the House called on the party for unity and stressed the importance of winning the November election.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr, son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson gave an oration reminiscent of his father in the 1960s. “America, we need a leader who can heal the wounds of the last eight years ... From this mile-high city, Democrats, freedom in America has never rung from a higher mountaintop than it does today,” Jackson told the roaring crowd.
Cameras spotted Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Obama’s recently selected vice presidential running mate, sitting in a balcony alcove. When he realized he was outed, Biden smiled and waved to delegates.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, among others is expected to speak at the convention this evening.
Monday’s convention opened with four elderly members of the Navajo Code Talker’s Association presenting the colors. Colorado Children’s Chorale sang the National Anthem.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Monitor Senior Reporter Carol A. Clark is covering the convention for the Monitor and will file stories daily. She also will report live from the convention floor at noon each day on KRSN AM 1490.