For one brief, indelible moment last Saturday, Colorado Springs brushed against the epicenter of American politics and, in particular, the Democratic presidential marathon.
On the World Arena stage, surrounded by 8,000 or so deeply committed and, yes, polarized loyalists, Terry McAuliffe was tackling the difficult challenge of convincing everyone to rally around Sen. Hillary Clinton in his role as her campaign chairman and emissary to Colorado's state Democratic convention.
A longtime national-level party leader, McAuliffe knows tricks and nuances for every situation. But this time, McAuliffe pulled out the wrong tactic.
Perhaps he thought Colorado's Democratic delegates were nave. Indeed, critics have suggested the Clinton campaign never has fully understood much of Middle America. Regardless, the smooth McAuliffe miscalculated his audience.
He launched into the Clintonian angle of playing up numbers (from the unsanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries) and playing down other data (from caucus states that didn't count individual participants), somehow concluding Clinton has a 700,000-vote lead over Sen. Barack Obama in the cumulative "popular vote."
But the story wasn't what McAuliffe said. It was how the crowd reacted.
First, thunderous boos bounced off the arena walls, silencing McAuliffe in mid-speech. Then came the chant: "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma." Clinton's backers tried to counter with "Hil-la-ry, Hil-la-ry," but they couldn't come close in numbers or volume.
The outpouring continued for more than two minutes, until McAuliffe resorted to the convention's gavel, pounding the room back to order. Realizing he had work to do, McAuliffe could only say, "Wow. I like your enthusiasm," wrapping up with the claim that "we've got two great candidates" and pleading for all Dems to unite around the nominee, no matter who it is.
But the music that accompanied McAuliffe was another gaffe. Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" worked as a recycled theme song after President Bill Clinton's first victory in 1992, but sounds like way-too-old history now.
Two hours later, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano showed up to speak for Obama, and the distinctive beat of a different oldie, Gary Glitter's distinctive and pounding "Rock and Roll Part Two," worked just fine.
"What a state! Colorado, you rock!" Napolitano said. She brought the house down by saying, "I think a lot of people in this room made up their minds a long time ago that Barack Obama will be the next president." She even injected some humor about her state's famous senator: "In the words of George Bush, John McCain is never to be misunderestimated."
Those lines, and their reverberating reactions, lifted the day far above how it might have been remembered: as an endless, overdone litany of speeches, backslapping and one-liners.
Sure, the delegates were pumped to hear Gov. Bill Ritter and the state's Democrats in Washington. But the hoopla around Rep. Mark Udall's nomination and acceptance for the Senate was a bit much, with Udall entering through the crowd like Muhammad Ali.
Some might have even wondered: Was it worth the trouble? Not just for the Dems to have a way-too-big state convention, but also for Colorado Springs to go to so much trouble hosting it?
Without a doubt, both answers were yes. Yes, the Dems need lessons in organization, and we're tired of the excuse that "this is so much bigger than anything we've done before." That's not good enough to explain the line, several thousand people deep, for registration Friday. Or the chaos on the arena concourse Saturday, especially when 2,000 or so alternates were trying to be seated as official delegates from their counties. Or the poor planning on how to deal with parking.
But Colorado Springs and the Dems can learn from the logistical troubles. Clearly, the World Arena wasn't big enough for an inspired party in a presidential election year. About 8,000 people crammed the arena and its hallways; thank goodness the anticipated 10,000 didn't all show up.
Those who did seemed to share a new feeling: If this is what comes with hordes of energized Democrats, they'll live with it.
And they'll also have the memory of putting Terry McAuliffe in his place.
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