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Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., waves to delegates as he takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention Monday.

DENVER — The woman Democrats hope will be the next first lady, Michelle Obama, told a packed Democratic National Convention on Monday night that she and her husband understand what America is, where it has come from and where it needs to go.

"I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president. I come as a mom whose girls are the heart and the center of my world.

"Their future and all our children's future is my stake in this election," she told a cheering audience.

Introduced by her older brother, Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama said their father "was our rock," who worked hard every day, and their mom was a strong, good woman.

And even though Barack had a funny name, she said, and was raised in Hawaii — far away from Chicago — his mom struggled to pay the bills just like her family did, scrimped to get by.

Her and Barack's lives were, really, a great American story. "I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history, knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me."

She said when she tucks her two girls, Malia and Sasha, into bed at night, "I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own. And one day, they — like your sons and daughters — will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. Let us work together to fulfill their hopes.

"Hope, you see, that is why I love this country," she said to standing cheers. And Barack Obama shares that hope and will work each day to achieve his goals, like he always has, by bringing people together and reminding "how much we share and how alike we really are."

Monday's theme was get to know the Obamas, especially the man Democrats hope will be the next president. It's an effort to show a very different man than Republicans are portraying — an elitist who doesn't understand the vast majority of Americans' lives or dreams

Democrats young and old, those related to Obama by blood and those who have only met him a few times, took the podium to praise what they see as a common man with uncommon compassion and intellect founded in core values.

Robinson, head coach of the Oregon State basketball team, used a basketball metaphor to describe his brother-in-law, by saying Obama "is confident but not cocky, he'll take the shot if he's open, he's a team player who improves the people around him, and he won't back down from any challenge."

At the end of the night, Obama appeared via satellite (as nominees have done in recent conventions) to welcome delegates to Denver and promised to see them Thursday night, when he gives a historic acceptance speech at INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium — the first black man nominated for president by a major political party.

Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half-sister, told Democrats that she has watched in wonder as her older brother has grown and given hope to so many.

"Barack opened my mind and spirit, he took me to festivals, museums, street fairs, introducing me to people of many backgrounds and to stand up for what you believe in," she said. "And I can tell you that he'll be there for you, just as he has always been there for me."

Former President Jimmy Carter, in a video presentation, said that the Bush administration "ignored the plight" of the victims of Hurricane Katrina for three years, and some are still living like those he has seen in Third World countries.

Obama as president "will make sure this never happens again," said Carter.

There was also a special tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that was highlighted by an appearance and short speech by the ailing senator, who has brain cancer. Despite his illness, he promised he would be on the Senate floor in January, to work with the future President Obama to bring health care to all.

"There is a new wave of change all around us," Kennedy said to the enthralled crowd, who chanted "Teddy, Teddy, Teddy" a number of times. "With Barack Obama and for you and me, our country, will be committed to this cause, the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."

In introducing Sen. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, said: "I am here tonight to pay tribute to two men who have changed my life, and the life of this country — Barack Obama, and Edward M. Kennedy. Their stories are very different, but they share a commitment to the timeless American ideals of justice and fairness, service and sacrifice, faith and family. I have never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father inspired them but I do now — Barack Obama."

Finally, while he did not address the convention (that will come later this week) Obama's pick for vice president, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., was in the hall bringing loud cheers each time convention cameras showed him on the big-screen TVs.

Democrats started running new TV ads this week, showing GOP presidential nominee John McCain agreeing with President Bush any number of times, including McCain himself talking about how often he voted in the Senate with Bush.

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