Obama: ‘Safety issue’ prompted speech venue shift

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—President Barack Obama told disappointed campaign volunteers shut out of his prime-time acceptance speech by a venue change in Charlotte that he did not want to expose them to "thunder and lightning."

"I just want to begin by saying how much I regret that we're not all gathering together in one place to deliver my acceptance speech tonight," Obama said in a conference call.

The Democrat's campaign moved his speech from the Bank of America Stadium (seating capacity 74,000) to the Time Warner Cable Arena (seating capacity 20,000) on Wednesday, citing weather concerns. Republicans charged the shift had more to do with Democratic concerns that Obama would fail to fill the larger space. Democrats countered that they had 65,000 ticket holders, with several thousand more on a waiting list, not to mention reporters and other people eager to cram into the stadium. And some Democrats noted that Obama could hardly want to disappoint or anger his army of volunteers, whom the incumbent hopes will make the difference in hotly contested states. Just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, the skies opened up and dumped heavy rains on the arena.

"The problem was a safety issue," Obama said on the call. "I could not ask you—our volunteers, our law enforcement, first responders—to subject themselves to the risk of severe thunderstorms."

"I know it's disappointing," he said, describing key staff involved in the planning as "crestfallen."

The president thanked his volunteers for their "unbelievable work that's making a difference in this close race" and said they proved there was still "plenty of enthusiasm" for his candidacy four long years after his history-making 2008 White House bid.

"So my main message is we can't let a little thunder and lightning get us down. We're going to have to roll with it," he said.

The president, who heads to the battlegrounds of New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida starting Friday morning, allowed himself a sunny critique of the Democratic convention's first two days.

"We've had an unbelievable convention. Michelle—what can I say? I'm a little biased, but she was unbelievable," he said.

"And yesterday President Clinton, who I think broke down the issues as effectively as anybody could," Obama said.