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Inside Politics

Democrats look to rising young stars

By Thom Patterson

Barack Obama delivers an impassioned keynote address.

CNN's Aaron Brown on what's on tap Wednesday.

CNN's Tom Foreman on a hero's welcome for Michael Moore at the convention.

• Heinz Kerry:  'Women's voices'
• Barack Obama: 'Audacity of hope'
• Kennedy: Nation needs 'uniter'
• Audio Slide Show: Highlights
Day Three: Wednesday

• Theme: "A Stronger, More Secure America"

• 4 p.m. ET: Session opens

• 7-9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Elijah Cummings, John Edwards' daughter Cate, Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich, Ed Rendell

• 9 p.m. ET: Speakers include Bill Richardson, Jennifer Granholm

• 10 p.m. ET: Elizabeth Edwards introduces her husband, John Edwards, for his keynote address
Whom does John Kerry share the most in common with politically?
Bill Clinton
Al Gore
Ted Kennedy
None of the above
Barack Obama
John Edwards
Democratic Convention
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Set to address his party's convention Wednesday night, vice presidential candidate John Edwards is perhaps the best-known of the Democrats' rising stars.

But the Democratic National Committee has been paying attention lately to other promising politicos. Among the party's leading lights mentioned by political observers are the son of an African, a governor born as an orphan, a former federal prosecutor and a member of a South Dakota political dynasty. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Democratic convention; Carlos Watson: What's at stake Wednesday)

The backgrounds of these newcomers aren't nearly as familiar as Edwards' rise from a textile worker's son to a successful trial lawyer and freshman senator from North Carolina. But these Democrats may soon be appearing on radar screens around the country. (Interactive: John Edwards)

In the convention spotlight

The story of Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama begins in two very different worlds: Kansas and Kenya. (Interactive: Barack Obama)

Obama, 42, got his first taste of the national limelight Tuesday night when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He currently has no GOP opponent in the race for Illinois' open seat for the U.S. Senate. If victorious, he would become only the third African-American to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction. (Profile: The Democrats' calm rock star)

"My father was a Kenyan," Obama told CNN this week. "He was a foreign student who grew up in a tiny village. My mother was a white American who grew up in a small town in Kansas. They met at the University of Hawaii."

Obama later attended Harvard Law School, becoming the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Often praised for his charisma and intellect, Obama graduated from Harvard and moved to Chicago, Illinois, to work as a community organizer on the city's hardscrabble South Side. He practiced civil rights law before serving in the state Senate. He also has taught at the University of Chicago Law School and has written a memoir, "Dreams From My Father."

"I think that my first job is to represent all of the people of Illinois -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rural, urban -- and to make sure I understand the process and I'm delivering for them," Obama said.

"But I welcome the opportunity to serve, perhaps, as a role model for African-American young people who aspire to public office, and I welcome the opportunity to help frame the debate in terms of how we move away from a racially polarized society toward one that is actually going to be good for all people."

As the convention keynote speaker, Obama joins a list of other notable Democrats who have delivered the address and moved into the party spotlight, including former Govs. Ann Richards of Texas and Mario Cuomo of New York. (Obama's keynote, looking to his own past; transcript of speech)

"I think there's a real opportunity for him very quickly to become one of the most influential freshman senators since -- I hate to say this -- but since Lyndon Johnson," said CNN political analyst Carlos Watson.

From political bloodline

Rep. Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota is another young Democrat who has been making news. In June, she won a close House race to replace Rep. Bill Janklow, a Republican who was convicted of manslaughter in a 2003 traffic accident.

Herseth, 33, comes from a family steeped in South Dakota politics. Her grandfather, Ralph Herseth, was governor from 1959 to 1961, and her grandmother, Lorna, served as South Dakota's secretary of state. Her father, Lars, was a 20-year veteran of the state Legislature who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1986.

"She's young, she's smart, she's sharp and she's clearly an up-and-comer," Watson said.

"She clearly will take her pace alongside [Reps.] Harold Ford [of Tennessee] and Patrick Kennedy [of Rhode Island] as one of the early thirtysomething politicians -- the next generation of leaders."

Orphan becomes Iowa governor

Orphaned at birth, Tom Vilsack was adopted and eventually rose to become the first Democratic governor of Iowa in more than 30 years. This year he was one of a handful of finalists to be Sen. John Kerry's running mate.

Democratic National Committee press secretary Tony Welch said Vilsack, 53, is poised for the national political stage after first attracting attention during the Iowa caucuses in January.

"Nobody knew who the hell Vilsack was before the primaries," Welch said. "And then his name gets bandied about, and he's a finalist. So if you were looking forward to see who is positioned for the big time eight years from now, his status goes up there."

According to Watson, Vilsack may be on a short list for an administration post should Kerry win.

"I think that the likely next step for him will be a Cabinet position -- whether that's secretary of education or perhaps another role," Watson said.

Poverty fighter

Born into the low-income neighborhood of west Montgomery, Alabama, former federal prosecutor Artur Davis has spent his career working to fight poverty.

In 2002, Davis, 36, won a tough primary campaign to unseat Rep. Earl Hilliard, an old-guard member of the Congressional Black Caucus, by portraying him as out of touch with his constituents in the Montgomery area.

Davis graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and cum laude at Harvard Law School. He worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center in his hometown and clerked for a federal judge before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney.

"For now, he's been more of a quiet figure, and so in my mind it's not 100 percent clear what his likely future is," Watson said.

"In Alabama these days it would seem that if he wanted to run for higher office he would have more of an opportunity to run for governor than to run for U.S. Senate. In recent times, Alabama has only elected Republicans for Senate seats, not Democrats. But at the gubernatorial level, they have switched back and forth."

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