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More stars, style for Democrats at national convention

Visitors take photos of the main stage during the public unveiling of Democratic National Convention's facilities at Time Warner Arena in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 31, 2012.

Chuck Burton/AP

Democrats are distinct.

They will not officially begin their convention until Tuesday. But with thousands of delegates, politicians and celebrities already in Charlotte, N.C. for the big event – and the countless pre-bash parties – it is already easy notice big differences between this convention and last week's Republican gathering in Tampa. Here are a few of them.

1) More delegates, with more style. With almost 6,000 delegates, compared to about 2,300 Republicans in Tampa, the Democratic convention is shaping up to be a bustling affair, with far more energy than the GOP event.

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One preliminary observation is that the convention crowds here are younger and much more fashion-conscious. They may claim to fight for the poor and dispossessed, but they do it in Diesel jeans and expensive footwear.

Democrats are also holding their convention in a 'real' city. No offense Tampa, but the Republican convention was a rather hermetic experience, with little connection to the city outside the security perimeter. Not there was much reason to venture beyond the convention zone. Tampa's downtown, fairly soulless and concrete to begin with, was even more desolate during the GOP convention.

Charlotte, on the other hand, is the financial capital of the South and home to the head offices of Bank of America and Duke Energy. The corporate presence translates into fancier restaurants and shops. The streets of Charlotte's meticulously manicured neighborhoods are lined with massive oaks and elms and magnificent mansions.

Charlotte's uptown core is vibrant, with lots of locals mixing with convention visitors at restaurants and bars. The EpiCenter, an uptown entertainment complex, is overrun with people trying to get into the CNN Grill (set up for the duration of the convention) or just hanging around to people watch.

The police are polite and willing to point you in the direction of the nearest Starbucks. Their good mood may reflect the relative absence of protesters. A Sunday march organized by the Occupy movement drew only between 800 and 1,000 people. (In Tampa, only 500 protesters bothered to show up.)

2) More celebrities. Clint Eastwood may have stolen the GOP show, to the chagrin of many Republicans. But that gathering was actually a dimly-lit affair. Other than actor Jon Voigt and some lesser known country music artists, there was little star power in Tampa. GOP delegates had to settle for catching glimpses of their political celebrities in the flesh.

As The Charlotte Observer noted on Monday, however, the city's uptown main drag "Tryon Street becomes like a mini Sunset Boulevard" during the Democratic convention. Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria will speak at the convention. GLEE star Amber Riley will sing the national anthem to open the event. George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey and Brad Pitt are expected in town.

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Most of the stars will be here promoting causes dear to Democrats, such as minority voter registration or gay rights. Others are performing at private parties or giving public concerts at Carolina Fest, which is being organized in conjunction with the convention. North Carolina native James Taylor is headlining that event.

Other stars scheduled for convention-related events include: 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin, GLEE's Jane Lynch, and actresses Rosario Dawson, Fran Drescher, Jessica Alba and Patricia Arquette.

3) More diversity. The Democrats have enforced a strict gender parity rule in delegate selection. Delegates also belong to one of several "caucuses" representing blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, veterans, young people, gays and lesbians and the disabled.

Diversity was a secondary theme at the Republican convention, though ample attempts were on stage made to portray the GOP as a welcoming home for women, Hispanics and blacks. (The Log Cabin Republicans, representing gays, had to settle for a sparsely-attended media briefing.)

In Charlotte, however, Democrats from all walks of life are encouraged to be loud and proud. The first openly gay Senate candidate, Wisconsin congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, has been given a prominent speaking slot at the convention.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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