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Obama seeks crescendo as he moves inside to close convention

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Obama will close the Democratic convention Thursday not in a vast outdoor stadium but within the intimate confines of Time Warner Arena — a switch described as a “buzzkill” by one party official, but one that could intensify the prime-time energy of the finale.

Convention officials announced the change Wednesday morning, citing a thunderstorm forecast, which prompted derisive Republican questions about whether the president really wanted to avoid embarrassing pictures of a half-empty stadium.

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Obama originally wanted to repeat the triumph of his 2008 acceptance speech in Denver by closing the Charlotte convention from the 73,000-seat Bank of America Stadium — home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers — rather than the 22,000-seat basketball arena that housed the first two days of the gathering.

The shift seems likely to benefit Obama and his party, who have reminded veteran political observers during the convention’s first two nights of their talent for visual imagery and spectacle that plays as well on TV as in the auditorium.

The president will now get the chance to do what he does best: deliver a prepared speech to an arena jam-packed with his loudest and most loyal supporters.

He will not have to worry about rain drenching him or thunder and lightning upstaging him. His only competition will have been Michelle Obama’s highly praised Tuesday speech and the address of former President Clinton on Wednesday, with its fiery attack on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Obama’s supporters say they are confident the president will meet or even exceed those high standards.

“He’s going to hit it like you wouldn’t believe,” said one former administration official.

Democrats have also shown their skill at choreographing a convention. On Monday, “We Love Michelle” signs seemed to have been passed out smoothly to every delegate on the crowded floor, in contrast to some hitches — including a bungled balloon drop — in the Republicans’ parallel production in Tampa, Fla., last week.

Obama supporters and campaign aides say the change in venue doesn’t matter at all. They expect that he will deliver a speech that will resonate with undecided voters.

“It’s a logistical nightmare, but I don’t think people watching at home care where he’s giving his speech,” said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist. “What matters most, what undecideds, independents and Democrats are waiting to hear, is what he has to say.

“The most important thing he has to do is explain the choice in this reelection,” Elleithee said. “If he can say, ‘Look, we are nowhere near where we want to be, but we’re on the right path,’ it doesn’t matter where he says it.”

That’s not to say the stadium switch hasn’t caused some headaches — for Obama and others. 

“It was a real buzzkill,” said a high-ranking Democratic official. “Talk about the ultimate rain-on-your-parade scenario. I think we were all looking forward to capping the week on a real high note and leaving North Carolina with that image of 80,000 cheering people before the president. That was the aim, anyway.”

“Would it have been a complete rock star-moment before a sellout crowd? Yes,” added the former administration official. “And does the move up the ante for the president? Yes, I would say it does.”

The switch caused an even bigger headache for those covering the speech. 

“Media outlets will lose a significant amount of money already spent setting up — and now breaking down — the second location at the stadium,” said one network source, adding that a “safe estimate of those costs would be in the hundreds of thousands.”

Republican strategists said one thing was certain: Obama lacked the swagger he had when he stood before a packed audience at Invesco Field in Denver during the 2008 convention.

“The move tells me campaign nerves outweighed confidence,” said Ken Lundberg, a Republican strategist. “Adverse weather or not, the campaign set the bar high and then shrank from it. Creating your own appearance of weakness is not a winning strategy.” 

But if Obama delivers a strong closing performance on Thursday to cap a convention that so far has generally gone according to script — with the exception of an on-the-floor dispute over recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — Democrats say no one will remember where the final speech was held. 

“The crowd shots won’t be as impressive as they were in Denver, that’s for sure,” the official said. “But that’s not going to be what Americans look at as the arbiter of a good speech. We were never going to win them based on crowd size. That’s a red herring.

“Despite the change in venue, the convention will be solid.”