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Watch parties bring DNC celebration uptown

CHARLOTTE, N.C. After planning to watch President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in person, thousands of volunteers and supporters scrambled to make other plans Thursday, a day after Democratic National Convention organizers canceled the outdoor Bank of America Stadium event.

DNC officials and volunteers organized two dozen “watch parties” in the Charlotte area.

The largest was in the Crown Ballroom at Charlotte Convention Center, where by 9:30 p.m., about 4,000 American flag-waving Obama supporters sat in chairs and on the floor. Two other rooms held the overflow crowd of several thousand more.

When Obama took the stage, the ballroom crowd went crazy, shouting “Four more years.”

“Oh my goodness. I am so moved by this president,” said Carolyn Nelson of Charlotte. “I am so happy to be here now. With these people.”

Nicole and Dell Adams brought their 5-month-old son Tyler and were also glad to be among like-minded Democrats.

“Yes, it would have been nice to see the president in person,” Nicole Adams said. “But this is a wonderful alternative. When (Tyler) registers to vote 18 years from now, I can tell him he was a part of history.”

During speeches by both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, convention center partiers cheered and danced in time with the nearly 6,000 delegates at Time Warner Cable Arena. Blocks apart, the venues seemed to share a pulse.

The search for spots to watch the speech began after convention organizers announced Wednesday that, because of the threat of severe thunderstorms, Thursday’s action would move from the stadium to the much smaller arena, where delegates and others held all the credentials.

That meant the 65,000 people who got “community credentials” wouldn’t get to watch Obama’s speech in person.

Margaret Frasier and Kathy Allen of Clinton, Md., learned about the change after driving to Charlotte. “It doesn’t matter,” Allen said. “We are just happy to be here breathing the same air.”

After hearing about the watch parties, lifelong Democrat Ann Percy, 88, of Alamance County, never considered staying home to watch the speech alone. When she couldn’t persuade her son to bring her, she jumped into her 15-year-old Chrysler and steered it south on Interstate 85.

“No sir, I wasn’t about to miss being a part of this convention,” Percy said. “I was invited to the 2004 convention in Boston, but got sick and couldn’t go. I am so thrilled to be here with these people.”

Other parties were held uptown at the 1,100-seat Knight Theater, McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square and the EpiCentre.

At Knight Theater, which was packed an hour before Obama’s speech, the audience applauded and danced as the big screen projected a live feed from the arena.

Jackie Jeffries of Charlotte was disappointed not to be in the stadium but glad to have a place to watch the speech with friends. “They did a very good job making alternate arrangements for so many people so quickly,” she said.

At the EpiCentre, people watching TV at Mortimer’s Cafe and Pub erupted in cheers as Obama took the stage.

After his speech, Erin Nosker of Charlotte said she was disappointed that he didn’t speak about health care or Planned Parenthood. “He talked about the whole nine yards, except women’s issues.”

Businesses at the EpiCentre benefited from the stadium-to-arena switch. “We’ve had nonstop business, and we are one of the only places in (the EpiCentre) that’s open to the public during the speech,” said Aaron Bouma, general manager of Mortimer’s Cafe and Pub.

A smaller watch party occurred in the basement of St. Peter’s Catholic Church on South Tryon Street. About 25 activists from the “Undocubus” watched quietly as a translator made sure all could understand the president’s words. The aging tour bus carried about 50 undocumented immigrants from Phoenix to argue for immigration reform during the DNC.

Earlier Thursday, Obama apologized to the thousands of people who had hoped to see his acceptance speech at the stadium. In a roughly 10-minute conference call with people no longer able to attend, Obama said: “We know it’s disappointing. All I can tell you is how much I appreciate all that you’ve done.”

Staff writers Claire McNeill, Elisabeth Arriero, Andrew Dunn and Karen Garloch contributed.

Penland: 704-358-6043 Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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