Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 19, 2014

Obama Venue Change Means Different Backdrop, Little Else

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech has been moved from a football stadium to a basketball arena, disappointing Democratic convention delegates but likely causing minimal political fallout.

Democratic officials and strategists said it would have been preferable not to move today’s speech from Bank of America Stadium to Time Warner Cable Arena. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) acknowledged that the television visual of a wide-open football venue packed with Obama supporters sent a powerful political message to voters in 2008, when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at what was then known as Denver’s Invesco Field, while also serving as an important campaign organizing tool.

But given that weather forecasters are predicting the possibility of showers for a greater Charlotte area that has been pummeled with strong rain and thunderstorms off and on since Labor Day weekend, Van Hollen said that the Obama campaign and convention organizers made the right call in moving Obama’s big speech indoors, despite disrupting the travel plans of thousands who were planning to attend.

“Obviously it’s disappointing that we couldn’t accommodate the, what is it, 65,000 people who wanted to participate? I mean there are a lot of people who traveled a long way to be part of history here. But it would not have been a good thing if it was pouring rain in the stadium,” Van Hollen told Roll Call in an interview. “That’s why they made what was obviously a very tough call to move it in. … I think it was the right call.”

The decision, made Wednesday morning, was heckled by Republicans.

The GOP charged that the Obama campaign was having trouble filling the stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. They said Obama’s team took advantage of an uncertain weather report to save the president a political embarrassment that could have marred a speech that is very important to his re-election prospects. Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden will now speak in the arena, home of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.

Major party presidential nominees traditionally deliver their nomination acceptance speeches in indoor arenas. But Obama broke precedent in 2008, and to great effect. His campaign had intended to replicate the Denver event here in Charlotte, using it not just as a hoped-for stunning political visual to sway voters watching on television, but as a way to obtain information on those attending for get-out-the-vote activities.

But a Democratic strategist said the message of Obama’s speech is more important than the venue and predicted the president’s re-election effort wouldn’t suffer because of this last-minute change.

“Voters care about what the words a candidate says, not where he says them. The speech will look and sound the same to people watching on television,” said Phil Singer, who advised now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her 2008 presidential bid.

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