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Debbie Wasserman Schultz opens the DNC convention, supporters swoon

Plenty of high-wattage political stars will speak this week at the Democratic National Convention. But for some South Florida Democrats, the biggest of them all was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Weston congresswoman who heads the DNC.

"I got chills," said 53-year-old Ella Phillips, after Wasserman Schultz gaveled open the convention at 5 p.m.

Forget any internal Obama campaign squabbles about whether Wasserman Schultz is an effective surrogate.  The Florida delegates were having none of that. Phillips and a core group of supporters -- all first-time convention-goers -- saved front-row seats in the Florida section of the arena to watch the congresswoman, who in her brief opening remarks told the crowd the convention will be about "involving people who want to put their shoulders to the wheel and change our economy for the better."

Also in front-row seats: Michael Emanuel Rajner of Wilton Manors and Ken Evans of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Rajner, the legislative director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, said Wasserman Schultz earned his respect by restoring cuts to a program that helps HIV-positive women and children.
"She's a great listener," Evans said, but said he also liked her willingness to be a lightning rod for

"I like the fact that she speaks her mind," he said. Added Rajner: "She's willing to stand up to an extremist agenda."

Betty DiMaio of Fort Lauderdale, who volunteers as a neighborhood team leader for the Obama campaign, said she wanted to spend every minute she could on the convention floor. Her job is to go back to Florida to motivate the other volunteers she works with, and Wasserman Schultz is a great role model for that, she said. She said she couldn't imagine not being there when the convention officially opened.

"We've been working on this campaign for a long time," she said. "It's about getting the energy to take back to all of our volunteers."