CHARLOTTE, N.C. President Barack Obamas Thursday night acceptance speech at Charlottes Bank of America Stadium was to be, as Davidson resident Vonda Lee put it, a once-in-a-lifetime, history-making situation.
She was thrilled she would be there to witness it.
Now, Lee is among 65,000 people who wont be attending, following the Democratic National Convention Committees decision to move the big speech to Charlottes much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena.
The committee announced the move Wednesday, citing safety concerns due to potential rain and thunderstorms. As a result, attendees will be limited to 15,000 donors, official guests, media and delegates attending the convention.
The news, which came as workers had nearly finished stadium preparations, angered some Obama supporters and left others resigned. Some wondered whether the decision would deflate voter enthusiasm. Many had stood in line for hours or put in volunteer time with the Obama campaign to get the free tickets.
I dont hate the Democratic Party because of it, said Charlottes Terry Shipley. Im just disappointed.
Said Charlottes Lesa Kastanas: We need something for the rest of us those of us who dont have shiny credentials.
Campaign officials say theyre working on that. Theyve promised shut-out ticket holders a call with President Obama at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. And they said theyre trying to arrange an event where the president would meet with the ticket holders before the election.
Brent Colburn, Obama for America communications director, expressed sympathy and encouraged ticket holders to watch the live broadcast at home and hold block parties.
We share their frustration and disappointment, Colburn said. This isnt a decision we wanted to make. It was a decision we felt we had to make.
Theres a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday. While the storms will have moved east of Charlotte by evening, one could hit earlier, at a time when thousands would have been in the open-air stadium or standing outside, waiting to clear security.
Democrats knew they were taking a calculated risk when they chose to culminate the convention in the stadium. But odds seemed in their favor. The chance of thunderstorms drops in September, and most years in Charlotte, Sept. 6 has been a dry and fairly hot day.
Many Republicans on Wednesday questioned Democrats motives, alleging they made the last-minute switch not because they feared thunderstorms, but because they knew theyd have many empty seats.
Said radio personality Rush Limbaugh: There is no other event scheduled outside with the same weather forecast that would be canceled. They wouldnt cancel a baseball game. They wouldnt cancel a football game. They wouldnt cancel a picnic.
Organizers had hoped to replicate the crowd of 80,000 that had watched President Obama accept the Democratic nomination in Denver in 2008.
During a Panthers game, the stadium seats about 74,000, but it was being reconfigured to hold more people. Obama would have spoken from a stage on the 50-yard line. Chairs for delegates would have covered the field.
So the Dems say they would have filled up the stadium unless it did rain and many people stayed home.
Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University, said the Obama campaign almost surely considered the best- and worst-case TV images optics, in political parlance and decided not to risk Obama addressing a crowd thinned by thunderstorms.
A half-empty stadium would go against this narrative that the convention was building toward a crescendo that would explode in enthusiasm for the president, Huffmon said. Safer to be at Time Warner Arena, where the roof is liable to pop off because these delegates are going to go nuts.
Campaign officials said theyre disappointed. Look, we wanted this to go forward, Colburn said. As you saw in Denver, this was an organizing tool for us. We lose the ability to do in-person (voter) registration. That was a huge thing for us in Colorado.
Some Obama supporters are taking the bad news in stride.
I may not be in the arena, but I will be there in spirit, said Teresa Meyers of Waxhaw, who had waited in line for tickets for nearly eight hours.
Angela Willis, who works at Wells Fargo and lives in Matthews, suggested on her Facebook page that people attend parties to watch the presidents speech. I was absolutely disappointed, like everybody else, she said. But she figures she can still enjoy listening to the speech with others who share her enthusiasm.
Some out-of-towners had planned to come into Charlotte Thursday for the speech. Now theyre staying home.
Mark Laskowski, a social studies instructor at Raleighs Ravenscroft high school, was to bring 10 students. The students volunteered for the campaign over the summer to receive the tickets. The opportunity to be at a convention, that is a rare thing, he said. But in no way am I upset. Youve got to be safe.
One of his students, 16-year-old Rosie Waring, said she was pretty disappointed. Maybe Im just not as mature as Mr. Laskowski, she said.
Because of the weather-related venue change, US Airways announced Wednesday that it will allow customers traveling from Charlotte on Friday to move departures to Thursday at no additional cost.
One potential bright spot from Wednesdays news: Uptown bars and restaurants could see a bump in business. Some Obama fans who had planned to attend the stadium speech said theyll still head uptown to be near the action.
Vonda Lee, for instance, said shell be uptown and on the lookout for a big-screen TV.
Vic Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said he doesnt think the venue change will hurt Charlotte. Most attendees would have been local, he said, and the tight security wouldnt have allowed much chance to spend.
Austin Baird, Adam Bell, Maria David, Victoria Guida, Steve Lyttle, Jim Morrill, Claire McNeill, Steve Harrison, Mark Price, Kerry Singe and Kelley Sousa contributed.