Senior Democratic convention organizers told National Journal that three days of afternoon rains and the threat of thunderstorms on Thursday -- not concerns about attracting a big-enough crowd -- forced them to move President Obama's acceptance speech from Bank of America Stadium inside the neighboring Time Warner Arena.
"We are 100 percent confident we would have filled the stadium," said David Axelrod, senior Obama campaign strategist.
The decision was made at 8 a.m. on Wednesday and reflected not only unnerving forecasts of thunderstorms, but the reality that three straight days of heavy rains in Charlotte ruinously delayed construction of the podium and other facilities for Obama's speech.
The threat of rain stalked the entire Thursday schedule. As one top convention organizer said, "You can't delay a live network TV show." What organizers feared was that any stoppage of earlier speeches due to a rain delay would have thrown off the entire evening schedule and jeopardized the seamless TV presentation that Democrats crave for Obama's big night.
Two well-placed Democratic sources said there was no concern about filling the 75,000-seat venue. One senior official said the Obama campaign had an overflow list of 19,000 who could not be seated in the stadium.
While that may be true, it's equally true, according to another top organizer, that questions were raised last week about covering empty seats out of fear the stadium would not be filled. Obama for America field organizers redoubled their efforts and guaranteed organizers they would fill the stadium.
The plan was to bring spectators in from four surrounding states. At least 50,000 of the stadium seats had been set aside for these long distance travelers. Those spectators are now being told not to attend, and instead will be allowed to join in a conference call on Thursday with Obama before the speech.
"The last thing you want is 50,000 people descending on Uptown Charlotte in bad weather with nothing to do," said one top convention organizer. "It's a real public safety issue. The fact this decision took so long underscores how confident the field people were in getting the crowd to the stadium. If we weren't confident about the crowd, we would have made this call five days ago."
The change in venue means convention planners will have to scramble with logistics for Obama’s indoor speech—including whether there’s time to arrange for the balloon drop that usually ends the final night’s proceedings. Organizers said they were still trying to figure out logistics.
George Condon contributed
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