Obama speech moves indoors. Would there have been empty seats?

President Obama was going to give his speech Thursday at a football stadium. Now, with storms forecast, it will be in the convention arena, perhaps saving him from some embarrassing optics.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Occupy demonstrators shout at police during an unscheduled protest march on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., site of the Democratic National Convention.

The Democratic National Convention has punted. President Obama’s big speech Thursday night will no longer be held at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., a football venue that holds more than 73,000 people. Instead, he will give his nomination acceptance speech in the Time Warner Cable Arena, site of the first two days of the convention – capacity, 22,000 people.

The official reason: predictions of possible thunderstorms. But maybe for Mr. Obama, it’s for the better, given that it appears there may have been some empty seats – creating an unfortunate comparison with his packed stadium address four years ago in Denver, when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination the first time.

Republicans are gleefully jumping in, calling the move a “speech downgrade.”

“The Democrats continue to downgrade convention events due to lack of enthusiasm – this time they are moving out of Bank of America/Panther stadium,” blasted Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee in an e-mail. “Problems filling the seats?”

But it appears that, in fact, there may have been some empty seats, if Obama had proceeded with the football stadium.

In the news release announcing the change of venue, convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said he shared “the disappointment of over 65,000 people” who had signed up to attend. That suggests there were potentially 8,000 seats going empty, begging to be found by TV cameras.

And there’s another reason to skip Bank of America Stadium. The optics for Obama of holding his acceptance speech in a stadium whose naming rights are owned by a particularly unpopular bank didn’t look so good. The Occupy and other left-wing activists here protesting on the fringes were having a field day with that.

So Obama’s been getting it from both the left and the right. Four years ago, the left was with him. And Republicans were reduced to mocking the Greek columns that graced the stage at Invesco Field in Denver. This time, Team Obama was already skipping the Greek columns, but by going indoors the president is moving another step away from the hyped expectations from another stadium speech.

As he has said himself, the mystique of his candidacy is gone. Now he’s mostly just another incumbent running for reelection. And the comparison he may have to fear now is with his wife, Michelle, who killed in her speech Tuesday night.

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