WASHINGTON Democrats will be focused on the 2012 election when they gather in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention. But they'll also be showcasing a parade of rising young stars that could be the face of the party in elections to come.
Any or all could move up to higher office. One even could follow in the footsteps of Barack Obama, who was an unknown Illinois state senator running for the U.S. Senate when he got the chance to give the convention keynote speech in 2004.
He electrified the convention, gained national attention, and was quickly on his way to winning the White House himself.
"You've got some great leaders who could go a very long way," said Mark Daley, a former spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton who's now working on a book about Generation X leaders emerging in American business, entertainment and politics.
Leading off is San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will give the keynote address. A fresh face to most Americans, Castro is mayor of one of America's largest cities and serves as one of the co-chairmen of Obama's campaign. The 37-year-old Texan is the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic convention.
In the Democratic National Committee video introducing him, Castro said he was inspired by Obama's 2004 speech, and he acknowledged he has "big shoes to fill."
Other young mayors will be prominently featured as well. Hometown favorite Anthony Foxx, the 41-year-old mayor of Charlotte, will be on hand, as will 43-year-old Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. The convention chairman is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the first woman to be elected to the office in the Golden State, along with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are among the state government faces at the convention.
One of the new faces being promoted at the gathering is Sandra Fluke, the recent Georgetown Law School graduate who shot to political fame this year after testifying to Congress about insurance coverage of contraceptives. She's become a top spokeswoman for the party and is a possible candidate for office.
Another is hardly young but is new to most of the country.
Elizabeth Warren, 63, a law professor and vocal advocate of Wall Street regulation, is her party's candidate to win back the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat once held by the late Edward Kennedy, but which is now in Republican hands. She's a star of the liberal blogosphere, known for a video in which she tells a voter that the wealthy have an obligation to give back to the community because they made their fortunes with the help of taxpayer-financed infrastructure.
"A lot of rising stars are Latino, they're women and they're from the West," said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic political consultant.