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Democrats poised to open Obama s convention

COLORADO, August 25 – Democrats launch a star-studded party to rally around Barack Obama’s historic White House bid Monday, with Hillary Clinton set for a symbolic gesture of unity after their tense primary showdown.

Obama, 47, who will become the first black presidential nominee, said Sunday he will try to convince voters he is just a normal middle class American despite his exotic upbringing and Republican claims he is an elitist.

"You’ll find out, ‘he’s pretty much like us,’" Obama told supporters referring to himself, days after lambasting his Republican rival John McCain for being unable to say how many homes he owns with his multi-millionaire wife.

Though the Democratic National Convention is Obama’s moment in the spotlight, his former foe Hillary Clinton will be watched almost as closely, under intense pressure to unify Democrats after their bitter nominating clash.

As Republicans picked at the wounds of their marathon battle, a Democratic official said on condition of anonymity that Clinton was expected to release her haul of delegates, leaving them free to vote for Obama in Wednesday’s symbolic roll-call vote.

The former first lady will host a reception for her delegates piled up in a countrywide string of primaries and caucuses in the first six months of this year, a day after addressing the convention on Tuesday night.

Republicans however are attempting to play on the anger of Clinton supporters who feel their heroine was deprived of her rightful spot as the nominee, or even a vice presidential nod, partly through sexism.

A hard-hitting McCain political ad said Clinton had been passed over for "speaking the truth" about Obama’s political agenda during their acrimonious battle.

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"The truth hurt, and Obama didn’t like it," said the ad, issued a day after the presumptive Democratic nominee chose veteran senator and foreign policy expert Joseph Biden as his number two.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani meanwhile suggested Obama, who Republicans say is woefully inexperienced, had been too weak to put a formidable figure like Clinton on the ticket.

A new USA Today/Gallup survey Monday suggested that the general election was still up for grabs, with voters harboring misgivings about each candidate.

Half of those polled said Obama "may be too closely aligned with people who hold radical political views," and 57 percent said they were concerned he lacked the experience to be an effective president.

But four in 10 said they are worried McCain, who turns 72 next Friday, is too old for the presidency, and 67 percent said they’re concerned he’ll pursue policies too similar to those of President George W. Bush.

On the eve of the convention, anticipation was building over a rumored appearance by cancer-stricken Senator Edward Kennedy, in what could be an emotional farewell from a liberal icon who held previous conventions in thrall.

Another highlight on Monday will be a speech by Obama’s wife Michelle, who will attempt to portray her husband as a father and family man, despite finding herself a target during the campaign of attacks by conservatives.

The Democratic convention, followed next week by the Republican gathering in St. Paul, Minnesota, comes after McCain cut Obama’s opinion poll lead and wrenched the race into a statistical tie, ahead of November’s election.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Sunday indicated the Illinois senator’s four-point lead was almost within the margin of error.

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Some 49 percent of likely voters support Obama and 45 percent back McCain, according to the poll, taken before the Illinois senator announced Biden as his vice presidential running mate.

As Republicans try to widen Democratic divisions, polls also show that many Clinton voters are undecided about whether to vote for Obama or McCain.

The Washington Post-ABC poll found 20 percent of those who voted for her in the primary duel now favor McCain, underlining questions about the Democratic candidate’s appeal to some core, blue-collar Democrats.

Last week, a Wall Street Journal poll found only half of Clinton’s voters said they would definitely vote for Obama in November. One in five said they would pick McCain.

A flurry of celebrities are reported to be heading for Denver during the convention, including the likes of Ben Affleck and Bruce Springsteen, to generate Hollywood buzz on the fringe of the convention.

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