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DENVER | Michelle Obama plays up South Side roots, family during opening night speech

August 26, 2008

DENVER -- It was about family. And Chicago.

The first day of the Democratic National Convention on Monday featured Michelle Obama talking about her family and saying "That is why I love this country."

It was obviously designed as an answer to Republicans who have tried to portray her as unpatriotic, quoting a line in a speech in which Michelle Obama said her husband's run for the president was "the first time" she could be proud of her country.

But Monday was also orchestrated to show the softer side of the South Side woman who could become the nation's first African-American first lady.

As with the roll-out of running mate Joe Biden on Saturday, the emphasis was all on family and working-class roots. And on Monday, it was also about presenting Michelle Obama as the girl next door.

"I come here as a daughter -- raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue-collar city worker, and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd waving vertical blue "Michelle" banners.

Closing the first night of the convention, her speech also aimed to present her husband as a common man with family experiences voters can relate to.

"The Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago," she said, her voice thick with emotion.

"He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital 10 years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering at us anxiously in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her something he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love," she said.

Michelle Obama was introduced by a video presentation featuring her mother, then a live introduction from her brother, Craig Robinson, who evaluated his sister's suitor by playing basketball with him when Obama first started dating Michelle.

Robinson talked about conversations with his sister late into the night growing up.

"When I wasn't happy doing what I was doing -- investment banking -- she was the one who encouraged me to go back to my first love, teaching and coaching," he said to cheers.

The afternoon and evening of speeches also showcased Obama's broader Chicago political family and friends.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan watched as his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, talked about eating sandwiches with Obama on the state Senate floor. One row up in the Illinois delegation, former state Senate President Tom Hynes watched as his son, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, spoke of being the first elected official in the nation to call on Obama to run for president.

The night's finale belonged to the youngest Obamas.

As Michelle Obama finished speaking and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, came out on stage, Barack Obama's live image appeared on-screen behind them praising his wife's performance.

"Love you Daddy!" his daughters shouted.

The trio of young Illinois presumptive rising stars who spoke Monday -- all of them toying with the idea of running for governor -- closed with Treasurer Alexei Giannoulias. Another second-generation familiar name, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., won a covetted prime-time spot.

Obama’s mentor, State Senate President Emil Jones; Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle; and the man who brought Obama to Chicago, Jerry Kellman, also spoke,

The younger Jackson explained how Obama won over voters of different backgrounds all over Illinois to win his senate seat four years ago and he said Obama’s election as president could fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

“Forty-five years to the day after a young preacher called out, ‘Let freedom ring,’” Jackson said. “Let history show in this fourth week of August in this Mile-High City, freedom in America has never rung from a higher mountaintop than it does here today.”

Giannoulias said he was Obama’s basketball buddy -- Obama considers it good luck to play basketball with Giannoulias on election mornings.

“My parents came to this country as Greek immigrants with nothing,” Giannoulias said. “But whether your story begins in a small Greek village, or the plains of Kansas, or on the streets of Chicago, we're Americans because we all share the promise of that story.”