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Thousands Shut Out Of Obama' Acceptance Speech


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

As we've been reporting, President Obama will not be under the stars for his convention speech tonight. The stars might not have been visible anyway. The campaign moved the event indoors, citing a chance of thunderstorms.

MONTAGNE: The move has left thousands of Obama supporters shut out of the proceedings. And some Republicans are questioning whether it's really the weather and not the prospect of empty seats that prompted the Obama campaign's decision. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Four years ago, Barack Obama accepted his party's presidential nomination before tens of thousands of cheering supporters at a football stadium in Denver.



OBAMA: Thank you.

NAYLOR: It was an unforgettable moment for those who were there. A perfect late August evening, a magisterial setting, and an powerful organizing tool, something the Obama campaign hoped to recreate this year. Alas, it wasn't to be. Yesterday morning the campaign announced despite earlier assurances that the speech would be held outdoors rain or shine, that it would be indoors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't know if we got enough to push them or not. I think we've got enough (unintelligible) to push them out...

NAYLOR: Workmen who had all but finished transforming Bank of America Stadium from a football gridiron to a political forum abruptly changed course. Greg Baker Fitzgerald started pulling cables out of the stadium he had just recently laid.

GREG BAKER FITZGERALD: Aw, man. It's called load-out. Unexpected load-out, but we'll take it.

NAYLOR: Almost as immediately, the finger pointing began over the decision to call the outdoor speech off. Republicans said it was evidence that the Obama campaign just couldn't fill the 70,000-plus seat arena. Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu says it fits a pattern.

JOHN SUNUNU: You can't believe a thing this administration says. Their campaign promised you rain or shine the president would be speaking there. Then when they couldn't get a crowd, they brought it inside.

NAYLOR: But that's not true, says Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. She told NPR the decision to move the speech was purely about public safety.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: We had 19,000 people on a wait list. Filling that stadium was not anything that was of concern to us. We were pretty confident that it would happen. But at end of the day, we just couldn't take a risk with people's safety. The chance for thunderstorms, along with thunderstorms comes lighting, was too high for us to put those people at risk.

NAYLOR: To say nothing of the risk of the optics of those elements pounding the president during his acceptance speech tonight. Of course thundershowers are not uncommon at this time of year in the Southeast, raising questions of why the Obama campaign tried to pull this off in the first place. And it now has to address the disappointment of the tens of thousands who planned to attend the outdoor event who will now be shut out. Obama supporter William Bilton drove here from South Carolina.

WILLIAM BILTON: I had good seats. I had club seats, but you know, it was a great plan, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

NAYLOR: The president plans to speak to those who held so-called community credentials by conference call today. And while in the long run the decision to move the speech is unlikely to have any lingering effects, it did rain a bit on the president's re-nomination parade.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.