Will new stars emerge from Denver?

Four years ago an unknown state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama lit up Democratic hopes with a rousing speech at their convention in New York. Here in the Mile High City, new party stars are struggling to be born.

While delegates compete for glimpses of — and camera-phone time with — the Hollywood celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Annette Bening, Spike Lee and Susan Sarandon who always flock to Democratic conventions, the hundreds of speeches inside the Pepsi Center are where party leaders are watching for exciting new blood.

So far the gold nuggets have been few — the party faithful and true loyalists got the best slots. But incipient charisma is starting to emerge.

Before Hillary Clinton’s 23-minute ode to herself and party unity Tuesday night, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he of the string tie and wide, open western countenance, fired up the crowd with a witty, snappy demand for energy independence.

Schweitzer was the first to talk seriously about global warming and said Republican candidate John McCain wants to give oil and gas companies, whose profits have soared, another $4 billion in tax breaks. "That’s a lot of change but not the change that is needed."

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the state’s first black governor, who told the convention he can’t remember ever owning a book as a child, is heavily scheduled for VIP parties and interviews about the sagging economy. Obama likes him and may appoint him to a Cabinet post if elected.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, running for the Senate, is supposed to be the next wunderkind, widely expected to run for president in 2012 against Hillary if Obama is not elected.

As the keynoter for the entire convention (the job Obama had in 2004), Warner was given a prime-time TV audience, and his speech was much anticipated. But his earnest let’s-all-get-along speech did not wow the delegates, who were so keyed up for Hillary’s speech that they talked through much of his lengthy address.

The lanky co-founder of Nextel tried to warn America that it may lose the global technology race if it elects McCain but he admitted he is not a great orator and failed to give the audience the "red meat" for which they are clearly yearning. (They really loved Hillary’s line: "No way. No how. No McCain.")

Obama’s running mate Joe Biden has a son, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, 39, who is handsome, articulate, smart and as Delaware’s state attorney general is being touted for his father’s Senate seat if his father becomes vice president. He also is headed to Iraq for a year as a member of the National Guard.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is new on the national scene but is expected to be an up-and-comer, told the delegates that former president George H.W. Bush was born on third base but thought he’d hit a triple. The current President Bush came into office on third base "and stole second" and John McCain "has cheered him every step of the way."

Greatly lacking so far have been new female political stars although Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton are far and away the biggest female celebrities in the party. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who might run for the Senate in 2010, is smart and capable but not a firebrand. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was an early candidate to run with Obama, is likewise competent but lacking in star power.

Disabled Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is widely touted as a possible successor to Obama’s Senate seat if he wins the White House. But her compelling personal story was not enough to carry her into a congressional seat when she ran in 2006.

Some party officials are eying Chelsea Clinton, whose new-found poise in the spotlight has intrigued them. They will watch to see if she campaigns vigorously for Obama or fades into the background depending on what her mother decides to do next.


(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)