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Behind the scenes: Will convention sway independents?

  • Story Highlights
  • Washington friends have "D.C. conversation" while watching convention
  • Three are in their 20s, not attached to a political party
  • Watching Michelle Obama, they are moved, but not necessarily to back her husband
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By Jill Dougherty
CNN
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. CNN's Jill Dougherty watched the first night of the convention with three young voters in Washington.

Three young voters watching Michelle Obama's speech say she appealed to them.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Good friends, with different views on this election, tune in to the first night of the Democratic convention. They're sitting on the couch in Rachel Bouve's apartment in Crystal City, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington.

Rachel is 22. She works with a public interest law firm and her friends, Jared Daugherty, 26, and James Frank, 22, work with a religious freedom organization. They're interested in current affairs and their small talk shows it: "...If we take a more free market approach, I think," Rachel says, "if we need energy we will find a way to get it."

Jared, looking at the screen, says "If you look at [Democratic Sen. Barack] Obama and how he raises money for his campaign it was just so viral, one person tells another, using Facebook...."

It's a typical "D.C. conversation," in a city where, as Rachel puts it, "everyone has an answer about who they're going to vote for. " But Rachel doesn't. She's torn -- the price, she jokes, of "being an English major." She was leaning toward Obama. Now, she says, she's leaning toward Republican Sen. John McCain.

"I think, ultimately, I'm just not sure how different either of them will be," she tells me. "They're both reaching out toward the middle right now. So what's the difference? Video Watch undecided young voters mull their options »

"What I mostly see is a lot of compromising on both sides and a lot of bringing people under the umbrella so there's no strong center."

I ask Rachel what she wants to hear at the convention. "I want to hear honesty," she says. "I just feel like everyone speaks in this lingo of either the other side's failure or our success and that's how political campaigns are won, but it's refreshing when you think that someone's talking about an issue because they believe in it."

Jared Daugherty thinks Obama and McCain are "great candidates" but he's leaning toward McCain. "There is a difference," he says. "There's a difference in experience, there's a difference in the approach to decision-making, I think Obama does seem more inspirational to me, but McCain has a lot of experience in doing the kind of mind-bending or boundary-crossing things Obama talks about."

James Frank and I go out on the balcony overlooking the high-rises of Crystal City. He's an Obama supporter, but he adds: "I wouldn't even call myself a Democrat. I'm definitely an independent or a moderate, but I've seen a lot of people who aren't interested in politics get very interested again in the political system and the democratic system here in the United States, which I think is something very good for the country and good for the future."

What does James want to hear at the Democratic convention? "I'd really like to see Obama and [vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph] Biden be able to tie in what's going on now with what Obama's message was in the past, 'cause I think getting out of the primary season into the election season it's getting dangerous now to fall into what Obama would call the old style of politics. And Obama's definitely in danger of falling into that himself if he's not careful. Any politician would be."

On TV, Michelle Obama is talking: "...every step of the way since that clear day 19 months ago...."

The small talk stops and the friends listen. When she's finished speaking, I ask Jared what he thinks. "There was something real," he says. "I think she resonated with me and in that sense what she was saying was a broad vision of America and I've got to take it into consideration."

"So she shifted you a little bit?" I ask him. "Yes, she did. Yeah, yeah, yeah." Jared sounds almost surprised he was swayed by Michelle Obama. He says he wants to take some time to process it, to think about it.

Rachel, still on the fence over who she supports, tells me "I was definitely moved by what she said." "They are incredible examples and inspirational, whether they are in the White House or not. I think this has been a really great thing for America to have them running."

James seems surprised, too, by what he hears, even though he supports Obama. "Her emphasis on family values and the love of family and of America as a family and moving forward -- I'm no expert in politics -- but it's not something that's traditionally associated with the Democratic party.

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"I find it especially interesting as a young evangelical Christian how the Democratic party is, in ways, saying a lot of the things that my generation of Christians are saying about values and community and working together. What Michelle Obama is saying is mirroring a lot of what I am hearing in other places. It's interesting -- a convergence of two different worlds." iReport.com: Share sights, sounds from Denver

Will their views change more as the convention continues? Maybe, they say. For now, they want to hear more. They'll be listening to Barack Obama Thursday night.

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