By Emily Goodin and Amie Parnes - 09/05/12 02:02 PM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama's acceptance speech has been moved from the Bank of America Stadium to the Time Warner Cable Arena, Democrats announced Wednesday.
Democrats blamed "severe weather forecasts" for the move to the smaller, indoor arena from the larger outdoor stadium. The first two days of the convention have been wet, and afternoon showers and thunderstorms are forecast on Thursday for Charlotte.
The announcement comes after Obama campaign officials insisted the speech would proceed in the stadium "rain or shine." The stadium speech was meant to recall Obama's 2008 address in Denver, when he closed a largely successful convention with a speech to supporters at Invesco Field.
Obama campaign spokesperson Jen Psaki said the president was disappointed about the move.
She noted, however, that it was a "staff" decision. "This is not a Panthers game, as you may know. It's a national special security event. So the criteria used for that is ensuring that we're not putting the public safety or security of anybody in the audience at risk," she told reporters on Air Force One, according to a White House pool report.
Republicans took glee in the decision, and expressed doubt that the weather was the real reason for the venue switch.
There have been questions as to whether Democrats could fill the football stadium, which holds 73,000 seats, and the GOP was quick to argue that the real reason for moving Obama's speech was a lack of enthusiasm for the president this election cycle.
"Problems filling the seats?" asked an email sent Wednesday by the Republican National Committee. It said Democrats "continue to downgrade events due to a lack of enthusiasm." Time Warner Cable Arena, where the Democratic National Convention has been taking place all this week, seats 22,000.
Democrats pushed back against the Republican accusations.
"The bottom line is that you just need to look at the forecast," a campaign official said. "This was not a political decision. This was a public-safety decision ... We wanted this to go forward.
"Everyone will sleep soundly knowing we are making the right decision," the campaign official said. "You have to make the best call you can with the information you have at the time."
Campaign aides said a final decision was made on Wednesday morning. It is not immediately known how Obama took the news.
Earlier this week campaign manager Jim Messina deflected questions about whether every seat in the football stadium would be filled, but campaign officials on Wednesday insisted they would have had no problem.
They said that 19,000 people were currently on a waiting list and that they were expecting close to 89,000 supporters on Thursday night. They also said 65,000 tickets had already been "activated."
"We were concerned about capacity on the high end, not the low end," a campaign official said. "If you look at the numbers, if anything, we were concerned that we'd have to turn people away tomorrow."
On Wednesday, they said those with tickets to the stadium should not try to attend Thursday night and suggested they organize watch parties instead.
Democratic National Commitee Chairwoman and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (Fla.) also said Obama would hold an in-person event between now and Election Day for some of those who had tickets to the event.
“Of course we are disappointed, and more importantly I am sad that the 65,000 people that activated their community credential and had planned on coming are not going to be able to be there to witness President Obama accept our party’s nomination and lay out the case and have an honest conversation about where we have been and how we need to continue to move our economy forward,” she said in Charlotte.
Campaign aides also cast the decision as a disappointment.
"We want as many people as possible to see the president give this speech. I'm not sure the Republicans understand that ... we want this to be as open as possible," the campaign official. "This was the right thing to do — we're going to stand behind the decision regardless of what the weather is tomorrow. Where public safety is at stake, that should be above politics."
Moving the event is "a logistical lift," said another campaign official, who reiterated Team Obama is "disappointed" that tens of thousands of people "won't be able to join us."
"Our top priority is the safety of our convention-goers and guests," a Democratic official said.
— This story was updated at 4:00 p.m.