Downsized, but fired up, Obama set for big moment

Approaching storms force President indoors to launch make-or-break bid for second term
  • @dusborne

Barack Obama will tonight attempt to catch the lightning released by his wife at the Democratic Convention on Tuesday with his own make-or-break speech that will cast his rival, Mitt Romney, as out of touch with the pains and aspirations of ordinary Americans and offer a new vision of how he would govern in a second term.

It will not, however, be quite the monumental moment the convention’s choreographers had been hoping for. The fear of real electrical charges – thunderstorms set to roll through the Charlotte area – means Mr Obama will no longer be speaking as planned in the 74,000-seater outdoor American Football stadium but in the much more modest indoor Time Warner Centre that has been the venue so far.

But it will take more than rain to dampen the mood of the delegates who yesterday basked in the afterglow of the first-night speech of Mrs Obama that drew tip-top reviews even from quarters normally hostile to the Democrats. “A total knockout,” John Podhoretz, the conservative pundit on the New York Post, conceded. “It was excellent and did nearly everything she needed it to do,” said Jonah Goldberg of the National Review.

On Tuesday, Mrs Obama offered delegates an account, vivid if occasionally syrupy, of her love-affair with her husband that served to portray him as a leader sensitive to the hurdles of Main Street because he has faced them himself. That is what makes him determined to bring about change to help, for instance on healthcare, she said. “For Barack, these issues aren’t political, they’re personal.”

It was up to former president Bill Clinton, who was given top billing last night, and to Mr Obama himself tonight to capitalise on the energy already coursing through the convention floor. The personal nature of Mrs Obama’s testimony was the perfect start, said Jill Reed, 48, a Kansas delegate, but Barack must take it up a notch.

“Because he is the president he will have to be a little more detailed and give us a vision of exactly where and how he is going to take us for the next four years, for our tomorrow,” she offered. “But there is no doubt he will be able to find the words and give the examples he needs to and tell us the story as to where we are going to go next.”

Ms Reed agreed that having to abandon the stadium was “very disappointing”. The venue downgrade means that around 50,000 fewer people will be on hand to watch Mr Obama and Vice President Joe Biden accept their nominations. In turn, it will make for a less impressive spectacle for the millions who will be watching from home on their TVs.

But it prompted sarcastic criticism from Republicans who saw an opportunity to divert attention from the plaudits for Michelle. Noting that forecasters saw only a 30 per cent chance of bad weather tonight, they tweeted, scribbled and broadcast in unison that the Democrats were taking Mr Obama out of the stadium for fear he couldn’t fill it. Never mind the embarrassing Clint Eastwood ‘empty seat’ sketch; the Democrats were in ‘empty seat’ retreat.

“Can’t they afford a Farmers’ Almanac? All you have to do, and planning goes on a year in advance, is look at the weather patterns,” Brad Blakeman, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News. “They didn’t have a reliable base to add 70,000 seats, so weather became the convenient excuse.”

Mr Obama, who watched his wife’s speech from the White House with their two daughters on television, was due here late last night. The first lady meanwhile continued her convention duties speaking in the morning to a gathering of African-American delegates. In slightly subdued tones, she warned them that the fate of her husband would hinge on turn-out and getting his black supporters to the polls would matter the most.

“We don't have a single minute to waste,” the first lady said, noting that in 2008 her husband won Florida by just 230,000 voters or 36 votes per precinct in the state. “Starting from the moment you get out of this seat, we need you to go out and find your 36 people.”