CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Severe weather forecasts put a crimp on U.S. President Barack Obama’s nomination party Wednesday, forcing the Democratic Party to move his planned acceptance speech from a 74,000-capacity outdoor football stadium to a much smaller indoor arena.
The shift to the approximately 20,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena was a setback for Obama, who hoped to create a visual spectacle in Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium to rival his 2008 acceptance speech in a football stadium in Denver.
The decision disappointed tens of thousands of Obama supporters from around the country who had been given tickets to the biggest speech in his campaign for the Nov. 6 election against Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Weather forecasters had predicted a chance of thunderstorms Thursday night in Charlotte, which has experienced heavy evening rains for the last few days. “From the campaign’s perspective, we are disappointed we had to make this call,” a Democratic official said.
“This was not a political decision. This was a public safety decision.”
The venue change was a comedown for Obama after a high-energy opening night Tuesday that featured an impassioned speech by first lady Michelle Obama, who portrayed her husband as a man who had lived through and knows what it means to struggle.
Michelle Obama played up her husband’s strong suits, declaring that after nearly four years as president, he is still the man who drove a rust-bucket car on early dates, rescued a coffee table from the trash and knows the struggles of everyday Americans because he lived them in full.
“I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” the first lady said to huge cheers.
“Barack knows what it means when a family struggles,” she said.
“He knows what it means to want something more for your kids.”
The speech fired up Democrats, who were expected to hear Wednesday from the party’s most popular elder statesman, former President Bill Clinton. He was likely to build on the momentum of the first night with a reminder to voters of the economic good times he led in the White House.
Obama volunteers Honora Price and Gayle Fleming were leaving Arlington, Va., to drive to Charlotte when they saw a television news ticker announcing Thursday’s venue change.
“We’ll find a watch party and go to that,” Fleming said.
“We will be in Charlotte where the action is. So I’m fine. Will I be disappointed? Of course I’ll be disappointed. But I’ve seen Obama a lot of times,” she said.
Obama will speak to supporters who had tickets for the stadium on a conference call Thursday afternoon.
Delegates said the decision to move Obama’s speech indoors would not detract from his message, and the smaller confines could be an advantage.
“I think it’s going to be electrifying,” said James Mitchell, 45, a Michigan delegate.
“Sometimes smaller venues create an energy and an intensity that is going to be over the top.”
Republicans questioned whether Democrats were having trouble filling the seats, although Democratic officials said they had distributed all 65,000 available tickets and had a waiting list for more.
Both parties have now been forced to adjust their convention programs because of Mother Nature. Tropical Storm Isaac disrupted Romney’s Republican nominating convention last week in Florida, forcing him to cancel one day of the four-day gathering.
The appearance by Clinton, perhaps the party’s most popular elder statesmen but a sometimes uneasy ally of Obama, highlights a night that was scheduled to conclude in the late hours with Obama’s nomination for a second presidential term.
“He’s going to make the case for Barack Obama,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff and a former Clinton aide, told CBS’s “This Morning.”
He said Clinton will remind voters of “who we are as a party and why that matters to the middle class and people who are struggling.”
Clinton’s high approval ratings, and voter nostalgia for the budget surpluses and job growth he produced during two terms as president in the 1990s, have made him a valuable asset for Obama despite a sometimes rocky relationship after Obama’s 2008 bitter primary battle with Clinton’s wife, former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, who is speaking at his seventh-consecutive convention since his debut in 1988, already has appeared in an ad for Obama.