By Russell Berman - 09/07/12 04:20 AM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A weak economy is jeopardizing President Obama’s reelection, and the threat of rain may have pushed them indoors, but Democrats here celebrated with abandon Thursday night.
With Hollywood glitz and patriotic flourishes, a pumped-up Democratic Party sought to give Obama a power boost into the fall campaign on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
The energy remained high throughout the night, as both Obama and Vice President Biden repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet and had delegates shouting “That’s right!” and “Four more years!”
Earlier in the evening, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (Mich.) electrified the crowd in one of the night’s most surprising speeches, swaying and jabbing as she championed Obama’s decision to bail out the auto industry and excoriating Mitt Romney for his opposition to it.
“I'd never seen her like that before. I didn't know she had it in her,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), in a view that was likely shared by many in the hall.
While Republicans trotted out Clint Eastwood for a prime-time speech, Democrats sprinkled celebrities throughout the Thursday night program. Actresses Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria spoke at the podium, James Taylor, Foo Fighters and Mary J. Blige provided musical interludes and Tom Hanks and George Clooney contributed voice-over work. It was a production that occasionally had the feel of a charity telethon, with the election of Obama serving as the big ask.
The evening’s most poignant moment belonged to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who resigned from Congress a year after she was shot in the head at a constituent event in January 2011.
She was led onto the stage by her close friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). As she has in previous public appearances, Giffords walked with a limp due to weakness in her right side.
Speaking in a halting voice, and with help from the crowd, Giffords recited the Pledge of Allegiance shortly before 8 p.m. The arena roared when she was finished, sending her off the stage with cheers of “Gabby, Gabby.” Giffords paused and turned back for a moment, blowing a kiss to the hall. Some delegates in the Arizona delegation and throughout the arena wept.
“It's so perfect to have her come back for this convention and talk about liberty and justice for all, something she has dedicated her life to," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Hill while walking around the arena. "It's such a spark for the convention.”
Another emotional moment came when Democrats officially renominated Biden by acclamation. As Biden’s son Beau called his father, “my hero,” the vice president could be seen breaking into tears as he watched from his box.
The highly scripted evening program contained no equivalent to Eastwood’s rambling and bizarre speech during the final night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The only Democrat to veer off-script was the retiring liberal stalwart, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who ignored the teleprompter entirely in a speech that touted the Democratic achievements of 2009 and 2010 and sharply criticized Romney’s governorship in his home state of Massachusetts. But Frank brought no props on stage, and his late afternoon time slot did not have the prime-time audience of Eastwood.
The closest thing to an Eastwood reference came not from a Democratic politician, but from James Taylor, who warmed up the crowd in the late afternoon.
As he walked on stage to find a chair set out for him, Taylor quipped, “I know, it’s an empty chair. Makes you nervous, doesn’t it?
“I’m going to sit on it. I’m not going to talk to it,” he added, to laughs.
Taylor began with a hometown favorite, “Carolina On My Mind.” Before he began “You’ve Got A Friend,” he drew cheers with another quip: “I’ve been watching the coverage, and I don’t get it. I’m an old white guy, and I love Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama lauds abortion decision from Supreme Court Dems celebrate anniversary of gay marriage ruling Cannabis conversation urged at North American Leaders Summit MORE.”
An undertone of nostalgia for the historic 2008 campaign permeated the arena, even though the decision to move the program indoors meant Obama was unable to recreate the stadium atmosphere of the Democratic convention in Denver.
In the end, as Obama embraced his family, delegates snapped photos and confetti fell on the stage, the scene resembled the final convention tableau that voters have come to expect.
All that was missing — because they could not be installed in time — were the balloons.
— Ben Geman, Kris Kitto, Bernie Becker, Kevin Bogardus and Julian Pecquet contributed to this report.