Denver has rolled out the blue carpet for Democrats. Everywhere you look in this fresh-as-a-mountain-spring town, there's red, white and blue banners and Barack Obama-boosting posters dangling from every available light post and Democratic National Convention credentials slung around just about every neck.
There's also a military industrial presence that makes this laid-back, mountain-bike-friendly town look like something out of "Children of Men," with big, black, ominous SWAT vans rumbling down the streets and flak-jacket-wearing police loaded up with tasers, pistols, huge bundles of zip cuffs, machine-gun-like pepper-ball shotguns and black bags hanging from their belts with riot-shield helmets at the ready to face off with the thousands of protesters milling around in various city parks.
None of that seems to even register with Sarah Kihm, 20, an Obama delegate getting her first taste of the political machine — and loving it. "First and foremost, it's not about me, because you look around and there's thousands of other people who have worked just as hard as I have to get here, and yes, this is a reward that we get to do, but it also reminds us that our work is not done," Kihm said, standing on the convention floor at the sprawling, neon-lit Pepsi Center near her delegation.
The bright-eyed, unfailingly upbeat co-founder of the Colorado University student group CU Students for Barack Obama earned her way to the big show by registering more than 1,300 students without any help from the campaign during a registration drive on her campus last year, setting up phone banks, bringing actor Forest Whitaker to the school for a caucus training and organizing a free Barack Rocks concert for fellow students.
"It's fun to be here with everybody else," she said. " ... Meeting people from different delegations and different states and hearing everyone else's story about why they support Barack Obama has been the most exciting thing." As the mundane business of the first day of the convention droned on behind her — which included the introductions of committee members, co-chairs, tribute videos, more remarks, more tribute videos, a brief performance by John Legend (who the ultra-connected Kihm, of course, got to meet) — Kihm had her eye on the event everyone was waiting for: the Monday night headline address from Michelle Obama.
As she worked the crowd in her delegation, doling out hugs and posing for photos, Kihm took a moment to point out that the host state had a primo spot in front of the massive stage, right next to Senator Obama's home-state delegation from Illinois and vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden's Delaware contingent. "I got involved in this over a year and a half ago simply because I believe in Barack Obama and I believe in his message," said the accounting major, who was missing a week's worth of classes to attend the convention.
On her way out of the Pepsi Center on the way to a photo op with a couple of WWE wrestlers, Kihm ran into another Colorado delegate who she gave a warm hug to: her dad, Bob Kihm. The elder Kihm, who lives in a staunchly Republican district and is also a first-time delegate, said he's constantly amazed at his daughter's passion and energy.
"My wife and I learned about her political awakening when we got her grades and she got a B," he laughed. "She was at the Boulder County Democratic Convention, and she gets a call on her cell phone and they say, 'We need you on the stage right now!' She had three minutes to prepare a speech when another speaker dropped out, and she hit it out of the park."
Bob Kihm said it was one of his proudest moments as a parent, seeing his daughter become self-sufficient and make her own path in life. "Then, 10 minutes later, she calls in tears and said she turned in her ballot and forgot to sign it. I told her the speech was enough of a contribution and I said, 'Well, I guess our job as parents isn't quite over yet.' "
Don't worry about missing out on the action: MTV News and our Street Team '08 will be on the ground at both conventions to sort through all the speeches, streamers and ceremony to find the information you need to choose our next president. And head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election. And after history is made in Denver, MTV News will help you make sense of it all in "Obama Decoded," premiering Friday, August 29 at 7:30.