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Democrats Eye Red Meat, Blue State

Political conventions are steeped in patriotic tradition, and with likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) acceptance speech moved to Invesco Field at Mile High, home to the Denver Broncos, Democrats might have to make room for another American tradition — tailgating.

The prospect of an acceptance speech staged at an National Football League stadium has Democrats plotting their pre- convention plans.

“Politics and tailgating really go hand in hand,” said Denver resident Kim Constantinesco, 25. “People want to feel like they’re really taking part, and what better way than drinking a beer and enjoying the scene to show your support?”

Denver Broncos fans, who celebrated back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the late 1990s, are recognized throughout the league as savvy tailgaters. This year, they also represent crucial voters in a swing state. Colorado voted 52 percent for President Bush in 2004, but Obama backers are aiming to play off the convention momentum to turn the state blue.

“When it was announced, my friends and I called each other immediately,” Bob Bergeson, an Illinois-native now living in Denver said of Obama’s decision to punt the Pepsi Center in favor of the NFL stadium. “Tailgating is huge at Invesco. At minimum, we’ll do that just to say we were near the convention.”

Bergeson’s crew might be planning to pack coolers of beer from a Colorado microbrewery and Rocky Mountain oysters, typical fare at a Broncos tailgate, but their plans could run into interference by the referees at the Democratic National Convention.

The Democratic National Convention Committee was thrown into readjusting their security plan after Obama’s announcement last week. A spokeswoman said it is uncertain whether tailgating would be permitted.

“The speech is designated as a national security event,” convention spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth said. “We are working with the Secret Service and local law enforcement” to accommodate for the larger crowd.

Invesco Field, just off Interstate 25, is surrounded by at least 20 parking lots that stretch far beyond the stadium’s perimeter, but the lots closest to the stadium will likely be closed off for security. The committee has yet to determine what to do about the outlying lots, which hopeful tailgaters say would be prime real estate for pre-speech celebrating.

“No matter how far away you are from the stadium, it’s still going on,” Bergeson said of the typical game day scene at Invesco, which he expects to be replicated for the fan-favorite Democrat.

The move to Invesco, which holds three times more people than the Pepsi Center, was to open up Obama’s acceptance speech to nondelegate supporters. The likely presidential nominee drew a crowd of 75,000 in Portland, Ore., in May, and organizers are expecting at least that many people to pack Invesco on the final night of the Democratic convention.

Like many of the candidate’s main-stage appearances, organizers in Denver also expect a spillover of thousands more Obama backers outside the stadium.

“Tens of thousands of people in Denver that night won’t be in Invesco, but they’ll want to be together to watch and celebrate,” Denver Host Committee spokesman Chris Lopez said. “It would be great [to tailgate]. It’s going to be a lovefest for Obama.”

The University of Colorado and Colorado State University football teams play each other at the same stadium just three days after Obama’s speech in the cross-state rivalry game dubbed the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

“A lot of people will want to come out to show their school pride and civic involvement,” Jesse Jensen, president of the CU College Democrats said, predicting a strong showing of Buffalo fans for Obama. “We’ll be out there for sure.”

As they decide which beer to tote to Invesco’s parking lot, Jensen’s group is also prepping for a voter registration push both on campus and during convention week. A fifth-year senior majoring in political science and history, Jensen said he’s looking forward to a fall season of football tailgating and political campaigning.

“Obama is doing great,” he said, “I’m just waiting for CU to win the national championship.”

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