When I asked some of the volunteers at the Democratic National Convention about Barack Obama’s acceptance speech being moved from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the more weather-friendly Charlotte Convention Center, I could see the disappointment on their faces. They’ve been working long hours all week, helping things go smoothly, cheerfully directing delegates and those of us in the press and bloggy world to get to where we needed to go with as few hitches as possible.
Their reward was supposed to be a chance to share in Barack Obama’s triumphant stadium event tonight, similar to the one the Democrats held in Denver in 2004. But citing a chance of thunderstorms, the campaign decided to move the speech indoors — meaning that only 19,000 people can attend, instead of the expected 73,000 the stadium could hold.
Some Republican strategists are claiming that the Dems moved it because they couldn’t fill the first location, while others saw this as a wound to the Democrats’ decision to bolster voter support in North Carolina by holding their nominating event in Charlotte in the first place. But the convention volunteers I spoke with weren’t buying those arguments.
The consensus among the handful of volunteers I spoke with was that the campaign was truly looking out for the well-being of those who would be there.
“I understand their decision,” said Alphonse, who lives in North Carolina but first proudly told me he’s originally from Senegal. “But the Republicans had to change their plans because of Hurricane Isaac. So it makes sense that the chance of thunderstorms would change their plans. If we re-elect President Obama, maybe I’ll have another chance to see him speak.”
Emily, a volunteer from Washington, D.C., and Stevelyn, who is from Charlotte, were working together inside the convention center when I asked them what they thought about the move. “It was the right decision, especially because we would have been the ones having to manage the crowd control in the bad weather,” Emily said.
Stevelyn agreed, adding that, as a Charlotte native who’s been to Carolina Panther games, she knows how difficult it would have been to deal with that many people if the weather turned really threatening.
The good news is that organizers have arranged a huge watch party for the volunteers with the no-longer-valid “community credentials.” The event’s held inside the convention center space, which Emily said would still make them feel like they are a part of Obama’s moment in the spotlight. In a statement he released, President Obama said:
I could not ask you, our volunteers, law enforcement, first responders, to subject themselves to the risk of severe thunderstorms. … Getting 70,000 people into a place is tough, getting them out of there is even tougher, and if we had started seeing severe thunderstorms and lightning in particular it would have been a problem and we would have had a situation where we were putting you guys at risk.”
The President’s big party has also been scaled back because of the move. Foo Fighters and James Taylor are still performing, but Earth, Wind and Fire is out, because the stage at the indoor arena isn’t big enough for their staging and set-up (maybe they could have just gone with Earth and Wind)?
The move is costing the Democratic National Convention Committee thousands, because Panther Stadium was almost ready for the night’s festivities. The decision to move things meant a costly break-down and re-assembly at the convention center.
How this decision will play with the tens of thousands of North Carolina residents who had planned to bring their families for this moment is another matter. It’s no secret that North Carolina is a key state to the President’s campaign strategy. That’s exactly the reason this year’s convention was held here, Brad Woodhouse, the DNC Communications Director, said in a blogger briefing.
Making inroads in the Tarheel State is also crucial for the Democrats’ long-term political strategy, both for the White House and other elective offices.So, while some of the volunteers inside the convention center might be understanding of the decision to move the President’s speech, we won’t know until November whether leaving that many North Carolina voters watching the President’s acceptance speech on TV instead of live in a huge stadium setting had an impact on what those voters really thought about the call to stay out of the rain.