In 2008, standing between artificial columns designed to recall the White House Rose Garden, then-Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president at Denver's Invesco Field in front of a record crowd of 84,000. It's clearly not 2008 any more.
A similar-sized venue was chosen for now-President Obama's acceptance speech this year's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where
Panther Stadium/ The Big Outdoor Football Stadium/Bank of America Stadium seats 73,298. That's ten thousand less than Invesco, but still a sizable venue -- and one which, if enthusiasm were even remotely close to 2008 levels, Obama should have had no trouble at all filling.
However, a growing enthusiasm gap -- reflected in crowds at campaign events that were so paltry the Obama team was relegated to claiming that they were "intentionally limiting" the crowd size at rallies -- caused campaign spokespersons to start making excuses in advance of the speech for a far smaller attendance figure than had previously been expected. Obama campaign communications director Brent Colburn claimed Tuesday that Bank of America stadium actually seats fewer spectators at speeches than it does at football games. "The way the stadium is constructed, its capacity is 74,000 for football," he said. "Our capacity is going to be lower on Thursday night because of staging, place for media, security, so we’re looking at approximately 65,000."
As Philip Klein noted, this claim flies in the face of the 2008 Invesco experience:
[W]hen Obama accepted the nomination four years ago at Denver’s Invesco Field (since renamed Sports Authority Field) the reverse was true — the speech drew more than the stadium’s capacity for football games.
Invesco’s seating capacity was 76,125 in 2008, according to the Denver Broncos media guide for that year. But when Obama spoke there, DNC organizers estimated that he drew over 84,000. At the time, they were able to actually increase capacity by opening up the field to seating.
If trying to reduce expectations for the outdoor speech was bad, though, what happened next was astronomically worse. the As Artur Davis memorably said at the Republican National Convention last week, "Maybe we should have known that night in Denver that things that begin with Styrofoam columns and artificial smoke don’t end well." The next rung on Obama's descent down the ladder from his 2008 high was hit today, when DNC organizers announced that Obama's 2012 acceptance speech, scheduled for Thursday night, has officially been moved indoors to Time Warner Cable Arena -- a venue which seats 20,200.
If you're counting, that's a decrease in capacity of 73% from Bank of America Stadium. At least every seat will (should) be filled now.
The official reason given for the move is weather. Charlotte is currently facing a 30%-40% chance of showers Thursday night, but one would think that isolated showers would present no problems to a man whose 2008 Iowa Caucus victory alone was so powerful that, as a result, "the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal." Also, he could just deal with the rain by rolling out a TARP for Bank of America stadium; after all, that's a solution Obama has vocally (and electorally) supported in the past.
Additionally, on Tuesday campaign manager Jim Messina declared that "rain or shine," Obama's speech would be held outdoors. According to the L.A. Times:
Raindrops might be falling on their heads — occasionally, in drenching sheets — but Democrats here are still expected to listen to President Obama’s acceptance speech under open skies later this week.
Obama’s Thursday address at Bank of America Stadium will go on “rain or shine,” campaign manager Jim Messina said Tuesday — at least as long as it doesn’t pose a safety hazard.
Convention planners said that Tuesday morning, when the decision was made, was the last possible point at which they believed they could pull off a relatively organized switch to an indoor venue.
Campaign organizers want a repeat of the open-air address Obama delivered at the Denver convention in 2008, before a massive throng of delegates and supporters whose enthusiastic help he’ll need this fall.
It became increasingly clear in recent days that Bank of America stadium wasn't going to be able to provide that packed-house, off-the-charts-enthusiasm moment that Messina et al were hoping for. The Obama campaign should at very least, though, be able to fill a 20,200-seat arena with people who want to cheer the president on in his quest for reelection -- and 20,200 filled seats will provide better optics than thousands of empty (or TARP-covered) seats in the 73,298-seat Bank of America stadium.
Then again, there will be no making up for the negative optics that result from having to move Obama's big moment to a venue 73% smaller than it was originally scheduled to be held at, regardless of the reason. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- the campaign's eyes were just a bit (say, 73%) bigger than their stomachs when it came to estimating Obama enthusiasm and preparing for the 2012 convention.
UPDATE: Jim Geraghty notes a couple obvious downsides to the move:
1) The easy metaphor: A downgraded national credit rating, a downgraded economy, a downgraded convention speech venue.
2) The implausibility of the excuse. A local weatherman is tweeting, “Thursday night will likely be the best weather of the entire week. Don’t blame them but could have called it earlier."