DENVER — Greetings from Big D, and you know what that means this week ... Democrat, baby. There are more Democrats here than a Kennedy football game. It's the dead opposite of opening day of the Utah Legislature.

You sure can't walk along the 16th Street Mall — the milelong pedestrian and shopping thoroughfare that is at the heart of the Mile High City — without bumping into Democrats. They're everywhere. Swarms of them. They're wearing hats and buttons that say "Hope is on the Way" and T-shirts that say "Obama in the House" with a portrait of presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama superimposed over the White House.

How do I know they're all Democrats?

"If they're here, they're a Democrat," is how Bill Dooling put it. I ran into Bill and his friend, John Hurley, as I first turned onto the lower end of the 16th Street Mall and started walking east. I deduced that their voices indicated they were not from around here. It turned out I was right. They are from a city back East called Boston, site of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. For that convention they had to take a subway. This 2008 version required a five-hour plane ride and then what Bill described as "an eight-hour cab ride" from the airport.

"Take a cab ride like that in Boston and you're in Vermont," he said.

But Dooling and Hurley, Vietnam veterans who are with the group "Vets For Obama," were nonplussed about the extra travel time. "We are thrilled to be here," said Hurley. "Denver is a perfect fit for this convention. It's like the future of America out here."

I told them I was from Utah, where this many Democrats hadn't assembled in one place since, well, since never.

"You mean Orrin Hatch isn't a Democrat?" said Hurley.

These men were feeling no pain.

It was that way all along the mall. Fifty thousand Democrats have descended on Denver for their national convention, and from the looks of it all but a couple hundred were downtown Sunday afternoon, wearing something that had "Hope" on it.

Kathy, a woman who lives in Denver and works on 16th Street during the week, stood on a street corner and stared in outright awe.

"I came down to see what was going on," she said. "It's kind of unbelievable how many people are here. On a normal Sunday right now this place would be dead."

Every one of Denver's 42,000 hotel rooms is booked through Thursday night to either a Democrat or someone who darn well better say they're a Democrat.

In true Democrat fashion, the overflows are staying with other Democrats.

"I couldn't get a room," said Bill Dooling. "And when an Iraqi vet heard vets were looking for a place, he gave us his condo."

Farther along 16th street, past a barbershop offering Obama look-alike haircuts, Sylveta Hamilton-Gonzales, an African-American minister from Brooklyn, took in the scene from an outdoor cafe outside the Sheraton Hotel where she'd just checked in.

Hamilton-Gonzales is an official delegate, one of 5,000 at the convention. Beyond the things she was finding hard to believe in Denver — beginning with the pending historic nomination of a black person for president — was this: Here she was at 5,280 feet and she wasn't out of breath.

"The altitude hasn't affected me at all," she said, astounded. "I think it must be the adrenaline that is a result of coming to this wonderful place for this wonderful historic moment for the Democratic Party."

But Thursday night, when her vote is mingled with the thousands of others that will combine to officially nominate Obama for the presidency, she plans to be breathless.

I continued up 16th Street until it runs into Broadway just below the state Capitol, where the steps sit at exactly 5,280 feet. I turned left two blocks and arrived at the Warwick Hotel, the rather regal headquarters for the Utah delegation to the convention.

Inside the lobby, Bill Keshlear, director of communications for the Utah Democratic Party, had just taken the same walk I had up 16th Street.

"The Obama thing is contagious, absolutely contagious," he said of the crowds and the enthusiasm on the street. "There are a lot of like-minded people here, people who think more or less the same way. Everybody's definitely excited."

"It's like coming home," added Aaron Thompson, a political blogger from Utah, as he passed by. "There's a sense of comfort being around all these Democrats. We crossed the Continental Divide and found some balance."

Or at least a whole lot of Democrats.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.