Michelle Obama, Tammy Duckworth Make Media Rounds Ahead of Democratic Convention

Michelle Obama, Tammy Duckworth, and others greet the press hordes a day before the Democratic National Convention’s marquee speeches begin. By Lloyd Grove.

Jae C. Hong

Not a lot of news—in the sense of unscripted surprises or revelations of things previously unknown—is generated at national political conventions, let alone on the day before national political conventions.

So more than a hundred photographers and reporters—some of them speaking French and German—gathered in a mob Monday afternoon on the floor of Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena to watch Michelle Obama conduct television interviews high above in the nosebleed suites and then descend to the blue-carpeted podium to check out the speechifying equipment.

The first lady, rocking a bold-print Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, acknowledged some scattered applause and favored the gaggle with a series of two-handed waves, punctuated by a few blown kisses to some of the Democratic staffers in the house and a shout-out to a couple of the delegation seats (notwithstanding the fact they were empty save for paparazzi).

“Okay, New Hampshire! Let’s hear it!” Mrs. Obama yelled. “Hawaii!” she followed up, before going backstage. In due course, she returned to do what looked like a White House–produced interview with former Obama staffer and current Hollywood actor Kal Penn, star of the Harold & Kumar movies.

By the way, one of the interviews Mrs. Obama did in the rafters—and a very long one at that—was with E! News correspondent Ross Mathews, who has parlayed an internship with Jay Leno a decade ago into a thriving television career.

“I thought we were gonna get a minute and a half, and we got like 15 minutes with her—it was really incredible,” Mathews gushed afterward. “To stand face to face with the first lady for that long was something else.

Mathews is getting much better access to big names in Charlotte than he got in Tampa last week. “E! News really hasn’t covered this before, but it is a great tool for campaigns to reach a younger audience. And I think that’s why we were lucky enough to get 15 minutes with the first lady.”

He added: “I didn’t get Ann Romney at the RNC. We tried to get everybody we can. The RNC wants to reach that kind of audience, but to be honest with you—and I mean this totally unbiased as a nonpartisan—I don’t think they know how. Because they never really had before. They’ve never been successful at it. But it’s undeniable that that voting bloc and that demographic could tip the election one way or the other.”

Mathews said, however, that he did receive a Thanksgiving dinner invitation in Sedona, Ariz., from Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, after interviewing them, along with The Daily Beast's Meghan McCain, during the Republican confab. "John is a fan," Mathews said, adding with his trademark high-pitched giggle, "Oh my God! I said 'John'! Senator McCain is a fan. He watches E! He sees me all the time—which is the weirdest thing ever."

Five blocks away at the Charlotte Convention Center, House candidate Tammy Duckworth was making the media rounds in her wheelchair. The 44-year-old Army reserve lieutenant colonel lost both her legs in 2004 when the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down by Iraqi insurgents. Now she is facing incumbent Republican Joe Walsh, a congressman known mainly for hotheaded behavior and eccentric statements, in Illinois’s 8th District in the Chicago suburbs.

“I’m trying really hard to focus on jobs, the economy, and tax cuts for small businesses], and not get involved in the craziness that my opponent likes to bring up,” said Duckworth, a former official in the Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs. “His latest was to say that there were radical Islamists plotting to kill Americans in the district, and he named three specific towns. I think in, like, four days, three mosques were either shot at or firebombed.”

Duckworth, who has been raising lots of money and feels comfortable enough about her chances to be spending six days in Charlotte as a member of the convention’s rules committee, said she expects the president to carry her district handily but isn’t taking her own victory for granted.

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“I want to say to people, ‘Hey don’t forget us. I know you guys think this is a safe presidential district, but we still need money and we still need help for people in the district.’”