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Tears, cheers and nostalgia on opening night

Nearly 6,000 enthusiastic delegates transformed Time Warner Cable Arena into a Democratic pep rally Tuesday night as they kicked off their national convention.

Here are some snapshots from opening night.

Kennedy tribute brings tears

It was a video tribute to the late Ted Kennedy, the longtime lion of the U.S. Senate, that seemed to bring the loudest and most heartfelt responses from delegates Tuesday.

Delegates roared with laughter while watching a 1994 clip showing Kennedy debating his then-GOP opponent Mitt Romney. “I’m pro-choice; you’re multiple choice,” Kennedy cracked after accusing Romney – this year’s GOP presidential candidate – of flip-flopping on the issue of abortion rights.

The cheers and tears came as the video traced the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care plan – and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it – to Kennedy’s decades-long crusade to provide health insurance to millions of Americans who were without coverage.

Several delegates from Massachusetts, the state Kennedy represented from 1962 to 2009, dabbed at their eyes.

“We loved Ted,” explained U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass. “We miss him a lot. We need him now more than ever.”

Gibbs sees win for Obama in N.C.

N.C. State University grad Robert Gibbs has an answer for all those pundits who can’t see his boss – President Barack Obama – carrying North Carolina, a state he narrowly won in 2008.

“We’re going to win North Carolina,” Obama’s former press secretary and current campaign adviser said when the Observer stopped him on the convention floor Tuesday night. “And we’re going to surprise a lot of people because they thought it would be the first state we’d forget about.”

Gibbs was just getting started. “We’ve registered a lot of people. And North Carolina is a state that understands the importance of investing in education and innovation – and that’s what this president is talking about.”

Kennedy hat turns heads

Judith Porter, a 72-year-old from Wilkes County, got a lot of attention with her authentic “Win with Kennedy” hat. Her sister works for an auction company, she said, and knowing what a die-hard Democrat Porter is, she grabs party-related items. Porter said she isn’t sure who got her first presidential vote but she doesn’t think it was Kennedy.

“I’m afraid I may have voted for Nixon,” she confessed.

Texans say city sets a high bar

Ryan Guillen, a Texas state representative from Rio Grande City, arrived at the arena at noon with his wife, Dalinda, and their 2-year-old daughter, Cinco. He said they wanted to be sure to get “a decent seat that’s got a view of the stage.”

By 8 p.m., as they were eagerly awaiting San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s keynote speech, Cinco was asleep on her mom’s lap.

Meanwhile, delegate Renee Watson and state Sen. Carlos Uresti, both from San Antonio, said they’ve been overwhelmed by Charlotte’s charm. And both noted that this is coming from a city that prides itself on Southern hospitality.

“You were competing. You had a hard bar to get up,” Watson said with a smile. She said her good experience started at the airport, where her bags were waiting for her. “You guys are great.”

Young delegates empowered

At 21, Elena Botella has never voted in a presidential race. Now she’s a delegate.

The Charlotte native, who graduated from Myers Park High, is a senior at Duke University and president of North Carolina’s College Democrats.

“I’m so glad to be participating in a party that listens to young people, empowers young people and incorporates them into the decision-making process,” she said.

Staff writers Tim Funk, Ann Doss Helms, Jim Morrill and Celeste Smith contributed.