What moving Obama’s speech inside means — and what it doesn’t

September 5, 2012

CHARLOTTE — The big news out of the Queen City this morning is that Thursday night's acceptance speech by President Obama has been moved from the massive Bank of America football stadium to the more cozy Time Warner Cable Center because of weather concerns in the area.


"We have been monitoring weather forecasts closely and several reports predict thunderstorms in the area, therefore we have decided to move Thursday’s proceedings to Time Warner Cable Arena to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests,” said Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the convention in a statement released Wednesday morning.

Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich disagreed, insisting that the threat of severe thunderstorms was quite low. And Republicans quickly seized on the news to insist that the move was driven less by weather concerns than worries that Obama would be unable to fill the massive stadium where the Charlotte Panthers play.  Democrats retorted that 65,000 people had tickets to attend the event (the stadium's capacity is more than 73,000) and noted that the unpredictable weather in Charlotte this week — the Fix did get soaked in an absolute downpour Tuesday night — made it a risk not worth taking.

Divining why Democrats moved the speech inside is absolutely impossible and, in some ways, beside the point.  Regardless of why the decision was made, that Obama will accept his party's nomination in a smallish indoor arena rather than a sprawling outside stadium will have some (limited) impact on the optics of the evening.

First, some history. Remember that Obama broke with tradition in 2008 to give his acceptance speech not in the hall where all of the other speeches were delivered but instead at Invesco field in Denver.

The strategy behind that move was simple. Obama's candidacy in 2008 was as much cause as campaign — a rare bit of organic passion and emotion in a political world largely devoid of it. It felt big and different to many people, and by staging the speech in front of 84,000 people at a football stadium, the Obama campaign effectively symbolized that feeling for lots of people — both in the seats and watching at home. It was a break from the past, a literal change in the way conventions work.

Fast forward four years. Obama the president has struggled far more than Obama the candidate to sell his vision to the country. The lingering economic doldrums have weighed on his political prospects.  The entire Republican campaign against him is centered around the idea that what Obama promised and what he delivered were not even close to one another. That rather than being a genuine change agent, he wound up being more of the same.

"If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?" former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney asked during his own acceptance speech in Tampa last week. "You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him."

Moving the convention inside will give Republicans even more fodder to make that argument. That the man who spoke to 80-plus thousand people four years ago is speaking to less than 20,000 in 2012 is a talking point too delicious to resist.

That said, it's easy to put too much meaning in the move. The truth of the matter is that the crowd in the arena will go absolutely bonkers for President Obama, and that reaction in such a small space will be a nice image for the campaign. (Think of playing a basketball game in Cameron Indoor Stadium versus one at, say, the Georgia Dome.)

"The noise in the room and response to the speech are what people are going to be talking about on Friday," said one senior Obama adviser. "And it would have been far, far worse had we been forced to evacuate Bank of America stadium during a thunderstorm."

Like most things that happen at a convention, moving the acceptance speech inside is almost certain to be over-analyzed. (And yes, we realize the irony of writing that in a blog post analyzing the decision.) What will ultimately matter is the speech Obama gives, not where he gives it.

While 2012 won't have the bigness of 2008 from a visual perspective, if Obama delivers the same sort of speech he did in 2008, where he's doing it from won't matter at all.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · September 5, 2012