DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- Almost eight months after Iowa's caucusgoers kicked off one of the lengthiest nomination fights in modern history, more than 4,400 delegates are finally assembling Monday in Denver for the start of the 45th Democratic National Convention.
Michelle Obama will be the final speaker Monday and officially introduce herself to the country.
The delegates will make history this week by officially nominating Sen. Barack Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party.
Many of the delegates, however, did not expect to meet in the midst of such a tight race for the White House. Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain is saddled with the burden of an unpopular incumbent president, a sputtering economy, an unpopular war and a natural desire for change after eight years with one party in the White House.
And yet, according to a newly released CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, Obama and McCain are locked in a dead heat -- each with 47 percent -- as the Democratic convention gets under way. Increasingly jittery Democrats are hoping the convention will provide the spark needed to recapture a once-powerful sense of momentum that has slipped away over the last few weeks.
Monday's kickoff -- which features the theme of "One Nation" -- has a lineup of heavy hitters guaranteed to sing the praises of Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, while also tearing into McCain. See the preparations for the convention »
Among the first day's speakers: Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois. Watch a preview of the convention »
Sen. Claire McCaskill -- who reportedly was under consideration as a potential running mate -- also will address the convention. McCaskill, a first-term senator from Missouri, is certain to be a constant presence by Obama's side over the next two months. Missouri's 11 electoral votes are hotly contested.
The convention also will say thank you to two of the most prominent figures in the modern Democratic Party. There will be a video highlighting the achievements of the nation's 39th president -- Jimmy Carter -- as well as what promises to be an emotional tribute to Carter's rival for the 1980 nomination: Sen. Edward Kennedy. Kennedy, the third-longest serving U.S. senator in history, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May after suffering a seizure at his family home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Also addressing the delegates: Kennedy's niece, Caroline Kennedy, who co-chaired Obama's vice presidential search committee. A number of political observers have argued that her high-profile endorsement of Obama in January gave the senator from Illinois a much-needed boost heading into the Super Tuesday primaries.
The final and most prominent speaker, however, will be the woman who hopes to be America's next first lady: Michelle Obama. She is expected to add a more personal touch at the conclusion of this evening's program by talking not only about her husband but also by introducing herself to the country.
Polls indicate that many Americans still don't know much about the wife of the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.
In addition to his acceptance speech Thursday from Denver's Invesco Field, Barack Obama also will make a live appearance via satellite Monday night with a few brief remarks at the conclusion of his wife's speech.
Obama will watch her speech from Kansas City, Missouri, where he's scheduled to campaign the following day, according to an e-mail Sunday to the campaign's traveling press corps from spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The Obama campaign will use the convention to try to win over working-class voters who supported Sen.Hillary Clinton in larger numbers in many states during the Democratic primaries. See the sights and sounds of protesters »
Obama said Sunday that he hopes those voters will conclude from the four-day convention that he is "sort of like us. He [Obama] comes from a middle-class background. He went to school on scholarships; he had to pay off student loans. He and his wife had to worry about child care."
Also Sunday, a Democratic official said Clinton likely will release her delegates to Obama.
And the Democratic Party decided delegates from Michigan and Florida -- states that had been penalized for moving their 2008 presidential primaries to January -- will get full voting rights at the event. Ending the sanctions had been a goal of Clinton's.
Earlier this month, Obama's campaign said it agreed to put Clinton's name in nomination at the convention "in recognition of the historic race she ran and the fact that she was the first woman to compete in all of our nation's primary contests."
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