Obama's kin to the rescue
At the Democratic Convention, family members are to help the candidate burnish his all-American image
Washington -- There are few things more American than basketball and "family values."
When the Democratic Party's presidential convention opens Monday in Denver, Colorado, Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, her basketball-coach brother and Obama's half-sister will provide the opening act.
They will be joined by a videotaped message from Senator Edward Kennedy, the center-left party stalwart who is suffering from brain cancer, and other top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The personal, prime-time speeches about Obama, 47, a US senator from Illinois, are meant to sculpt an all-American image of a man who is a relative newcomer to national politics and remains a puzzle to many voters.
The son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas who spent his early school years in Muslim Indonesia, Obama has admitted that his mixed race, exotic name and uncommon background pose challenges unlike any faced by past US presidential candidates.
"I'm asking a lot of the American people and I know that," Obama told The New York Times recently. "My biography is not typical of a modern American president."
Only a slim lead
That is why the highest priority for this year's Democratic nominating convention is to fill in the gaps for a US public still hesitant toward Obama.
Despite deep disapproval of President George W Bush and his right-leaning Republicans, Obama has an edge of only 3 percent over Republican candidate John McCain, 71, in an average of the latest polls, calculated by RealClearPolitics.com.
Michelle Obama, the Harvard-trained daughter of a middle-class black family from Chicago's south side, has already established a high profile on the campaign trail with her classy looks and rousing, sometimes combative, speeches.
Her remarks earlier this year -- that her husband's candidacy had made her "really proud" of her country for the first time in her adult life -- brought a shower of barbs from conservative critics.
More recently, Michelle Obama been appearing with their two young daughters in a bid to help voters picture her family in the White House.
"It's hard being a working mother in this society, period," she said recently. "Women don't have living wages. That is who I worry about."
Obama is often seen on the campaign trail shooting hoops, having been an avid basketball player in his teens.
His brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, 46, a graduate of Princeton and the University of Chicago, worked in finance before taking a pay cut to coach high school basketball. He now coaches men's basketball at Oregon State University.
"Getting to know the rest of (Obama's) family is ... important," Robinson told The New York Times last year. "The country doesn't know how to understand a black candidate. They are going to want to evaluate him up and down, know his background and his family's background."
Hillary Clinton, who narrowly lost the nomination to Obama, and her husband Bill Clinton, the former president, will take the stage on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After weeks of hard negotiations, Obama agreed to allow Hillary's name to be placed into nomination. She is expected to release her delegates and urge them to vote for Obama before the actual state-by-state roll call, though the details remain unclear.
Obama's convention speech on Thursday will fall on the 45th anniversary of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. With an expected crowd of 75,000 at Denver's Mile High Stadium, Obama will be the first presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy in 1960 to accept his party's nomination at a mass gathering outdoors.
The event is planned to tap into the recurring description of Obama -- with his gifted rhetoric, crowd-pleasing charisma and relative youth -- as the new "Kennedy."
-- Pat Reber/Expatica