Republican strategist Bradley A. Blakeman, who organized a number of presidential campaign events in his career, tells Newsmax that he simply isn’t buying the Democrats’ argument that the threat of inclement weather chased President Obama’s acceptance speech from a 74,000-seat outdoor stadium to an indoor arena that will accommodate considerably fewer supporters.
“It’s not going to rain. It’s going to be crystal clear,” Blakeman confidently predicted in an interview on Thursday some six hours before President Obama was set to formally accept his party’s nomination for a second term at the slightly more than 20,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, which has hosted all of the major DNC speeches.
“Back in 2008 the Obama supporters would have stood in a torrent of rain for the anointed one,” he explained. “The president was messianic. Does that mean that nobody plays football, nobody plays baseball? Why do we have open-air events? If there’s even a hint of rain we don’t play baseball? We don’t play football? We don’t play soccer?”
Blakeman, who oversaw the convention schedule for Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush during the ‘88, ‘92 and 2000 campaigns, said it is routine to set up a back-up location along with the main venue for campaign events, but that decisions to make weather-related changes are typically made on the day of an event, not several days before as in the case of Obama’s acceptance speech.
The speech was moved earlier this week from the Bank of America Stadium, which is the home to the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
He said he “never, never” would have moved an outdoor event like Obama’s speech on a weather-related “threat as it existed this week.” Such decisions would have typically been made after consulting the Secret Service, media and campaign earlier in the day.
“I would have had a backup venue like they did, and I would have pulled the plug probably this morning,” he said. “But not just drizzle. It would have to be something substantial.”
He believes that the Obama campaign doesn’t want to say publicly that it couldn’t fill the outdoor venue. “He wasn’t going to fill the arena. I’ve been told college students were not taking tickets, that they were trying to give people tickets in bars,” said Blakeman. “Then they demanded that the unions come. . . The unions said ‘we’re not going to come and save the day. We’re not going to come and pour union workers into a place that wasn’t built with union labor.’”
With the smaller venue, thousands of hardcore Obama supporters, who had been given credentials for the outdoor event, were suddenly left with no chance of hearing the president’s acceptance speech, a highlight in every campaign.
“Absolutely, it breaks morale. He’s now disappointed his hardcore supporters just as much as he’s disappointed everyone else,” observed Blakeman. “These are the hardcore people they were counting on to get out the vote, stuff campaign literature, make phone calls. You need the grassroots support beyond just their vote to motivate people in the base. And I think there are a lot of people who have been disenfranchised but they weigh that against the embarrassment of having 25,000 people at most in a 70,000-person stadium, especially when the unions said to them, ‘hey we’re not showing up.’”
Even if Democrats had given out 65,000 credentials for the free outdoor event as they claimed, that wouldn’t have been enough to guarantee a full house, according to Blakeman.
“I’ve done this many, many times,” he said. “If you want a crowd of 10,000 people, you give out 30,000 tickets. They’re not going to show up if it’s free and people have the hassle of coming and parking. So 65,000 tickets generated may only get you a crowd of 20,000 people — 25,000 people. It’s different if people have to pay for something. They’re more likely to show up.”
That’s entirely different from the situation that caused Republicans to cancel the first day of their convention last week in Tampa.
“We canceled day one not because of the weather that was hitting Tampa, but out of respect of the weather that was hitting our fellow Americans in Louisiana. It had nothing to do with Tampa in the end,” said Blakeman. “We didn’t want to be seen partying and oblivious to the pain that was being caused by the hurricane to fellow Americans.”
Blakeman said the Democrats’ decision was indicative of poor planning throughout the DNC, which was to have been a celebration of President Obama’s first term in office and the official launch of his bid for a second.
“The Democratic Convention has been rife with mismanagement and incompetence — whether it’s the platform, whether it’s this decision, the tone of the Democratic convention or Bill Clinton looking like the rich father who shows up at school to get his kid out of a jam,” he said. “It’s been one misstep after another.”
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