Published at The Australian online, September 7
ANOTHER storm sweeps through Charlotte, cooling the air and sending people running to bus shelters and the awnings of skyscrapers. The downpour is intense and those caught in the squall are saturated. But the rain won’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people of this southern city for perhaps the biggest event in their history, the speech tonight by Barack Obama. Within minutes the storm is over and the t-shirt vendors are out peddling their wears again.
After three days the convention is reaching its crescendo. Brass bands play on the streets and crowds spontaneously form and dance. When they finish they punch their hands in the air and shout “four more years, four more years”.
Obama has become an industry in Charlotte, hundreds of merchants sell every conceivable rendition of his image, on cups, pens, badges, glasses.
“Obama y’all!” scream the shirts, alongside “We’ve got his back, because he’s got ours”.
Politics is everywhere. On street corners religious zealots stand with microphones and rage against the prevalence of abortion. Elsewhere women in pink hand out condoms labelled “protect yourself from Romney and Ryan”. Members of the Occupy crowd have been in town since the weekend. The streets are barricaded, traffic blocked off and police on bicycles are quick to break up any hint of trouble.
Tonight, if Obama is to save his presidency he must energise not just the crowd but the nation as he outlines his vision for a second term
The Obama team has changed the venue for tonight’s key address, thanks to Charlotte’s unpredictable weather, and thousands of people expecting to glimpse the president have now been left disappointed.
Originally the Bank of America football stadium, capable of holding more than 70,000 people, was chosen, but now the Time Warner Cable Arena, holding just 20,000 people will be used.
One lady tells me she has missed out on her chance to see the president – but she came to Charlotte anyway “to be close to history”.
On a conference call for the thousands who missed out the President expressed his regret and said it was a safety issue.
“I could not ask you, our volunteers, our law enforcement, first responders to subject themselves to the risks of severe thunderstorms.”
Hours before he was scheduled to speak, the arena was full and the intensity lifting. Star power was being used. James Taylor performed “Carolina on my mind”, Marc Anthony performed the national anthem and the Foo Fighters will take to the stage.
Actors Eva Longoria, Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington will all appear. Then after 10pm local time Obama will address the party faithful and test his re-election message before the world. In two months time we will know if he’s done enough.