CHARLOTTE -- Thousands of loyal Democrats, many of them volunteers, will miss seeing President Obama's convention acceptance speech in person tonight following a controversial decision by party officials to move it indoors because of threatened thunderstorms.
The decision Wednesday to move the convention's grand finale from a 74,000-seat football stadium to a 20,000-seat basketball arena produced disappointment among Democrats who will be excluded and doubt among Republicans who said empty seats were the real worry.
Either way, the move denies Obama the chance to replicate his 2008 acceptance speech, delivered between faux Greek columns at Denver's Invesco Field. That means busloads of supporters, many of them student volunteers, won't get the tickets they were promised.
"Mother Nature has had her way with both conventions," said Reggie McCrimmon, 21, a political science major at North Carolina Central University in Durham, who had organized two busloads of students.
Republicans decided to skip the first day of their convention in Tampa last week as Tropical Storm Isaac bore down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
The move forced convention officials to rejigger the schedule to accommodate four days worth of speakers, notably nominee Mitt Romney's wife, Ann.
In that case, the storm had largely avoided Tampa, but officials didn't want to start a four-day party while millions of Americans were enduring hardship. In this case, thunder and lightning weren't certain to materialize, but officials said they didn't want to put tens of thousands of delegates, media and volunteers in danger.
"We looked at five weather forecasts. All predicted severe weather," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said. "We can't put people in that position. It's a public safety issue."
LaBolt said the entire stadium would have been filled with 19,000 more people on the waiting list. But Republicans had their doubts.
"After promising to hold the event at Bank of America Stadium rain or shine, suddenly Team Obama is moving inside after questions about enthusiasm for the event," said Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. "What's the real forecast for the speech? Forty percent chance of lies and scattered excuses."
Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, but Romney has a 47%-43% advantage this time among likely voters, according to a poll by Elon University, The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer in Raleigh. Obama's campaign team hoped to use the stadium event as an organizing tool. Organizers also wanted to use the outdoor stadium as proof that the convention was open and accessible to all. The move to Time Warner Cable Arena will make tickets tough to nab.
For days, organizers watched the weather warily. Their worst-case scenario was a last-minute cancellation that would strand thousands of people, many of whom had planned to arrive by bus and would have no place to go.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the decision to move the president's speech indoors would not impact his efforts to win North Carolina, and she expects him to make a return trip before the election.