UW Election Eye spent five days on the ground covering Democrats at their national gathering. Here are some reflections and photographs.
CHARLOTTE — The Democratic National Convention was supposed to end in President Barack Obama’s address to a live audience of 70,000 at Bank of America Stadium. It did not.
A last minute change shifted the venue from the enormous football field to the much smaller Time Warner Cable Arena, shorting some 65,000 people of a chance to see the President. The DNC cited a stormy weather forecast and consequent safety concerns as the reasoning for the change. It did indeed rain in the afternoon, and quite heavily at that, but Obama’s speech wouldn’t have started until late evening. Critics claimed the DNCC abandoned the stadium for fear of bad TV — inclement weather would have kept people home and left unsavory empty seats in view of the cameras. Either way, the thousands who’d earned their community viewing credentials by volunteering their time at the DNC weren’t pleased. The President called the change disappointing and promised to return to Charlotte and speak to the left out before November 6th.
Despite the complications, nothing dampened enthusiasm inside the Arena on Thursday night. Every single seat, floor to nosebleeds, was filled and the Fire Marshall shut the venue doors to keep out more. Celebrity speakers like Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria and Foo Fighters entertained, but surprise guests like former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords packed the real punch. Her recital of the Pledge of Allegiance brought the house to an intense emotional release. The photos below recount some scenes from the DNC’s political theater.
We were located to the right and above the stage. The sides of the venue’s second tier were filled with private, catered suites for big donors, proving that even if money shouldn’t buy an election, it can certainly get you prime seating for a convention. In between the private rooms and encircling the back of the huge podium, were desks and chairs for news outlets. Like the rest of the Arena, the press section was standing room only. The photo above captures our line of sight — press room screens play a CNN live broadcast, showing an audience member waving a “Ready for Joe” sign, while the real Vice President addresses the nation in the background.
A sea of enthused delegates held eye-catching signs to create good television, and it was not by chance. Orange-vested volunteers handed out prepared signage to delegates during speech breaks. The placards’ content corresponded with the desired message tied to a particular speaker. Keynote speaker Julian Castro’s address, on Tuesday evening, was accompanied with blue “Forward” and red “Not Back” posters. First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech was greeted with skinny, vertical “We Love Michelle” placards. For the President’s nomination acceptance finale, the audience raised hundreds of “Thank You” signs (above).
The Washington delegation had prime seating throughout the convention, to the immediate left of the stage.
The families and close friends of Thursday’s big speakers were seated immediately in front of the podium, granting easy backstage access and prime television shots. In the above photo the Vice President tells Dr. Jill Biden (in a blue dress) she’s the love of his life while First Lady Michelle Obama (in the purple patterned dress) looks over and smiles. The seating order was later rearranged for the President’s speech to feature his daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, in the first row.
Michelle Obama introduced her husband for his speech, and when he came on the two shared a hug and kiss to the crowd’s applause.
The firing of confetti cannons marked the end of the President’s speech and the DNC. While the colorful paper fell, the First Family embraced and posed for pictures on stage.
The occasion called forward fashion from some. Political fashionista and Mississippi delegate Kelly Jacobs pulled out her best gown for the final night of the DNC. The ensemble (left) was a floor length dress crafted from the iconic Obama Hope poster. The letters were bejeweled and the outfit was completed by red, white and blue heels. Members of the Washington delegation showed some sartorial creativity, too. This delegate (right) wore a Styrofoam rendition of the Evergreen State and its claims to fame. Included on the 3D map were a miniature apple, coffee cup, plane, seafood, Mount Rainier and more. The straw hat that served as the base was decorated with campaign buttons, including a “Jay Inslee for Governor” pin.
Outside the Time Warner Cable Arena, major networks set up publicly accessible stages and broadcast with a live audience background. MSNBC placed its studio in the center of a mall, two blocks from the Arena. Access was granted to all, but required a security bag check. In this photo, Chris Matthews and guests participated in an episode of Hardball, right after the DNC let out. FOX News Channel set up its stage outside Charlotte’s NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Chris Matthews invited actresses Rosario Dawson and America Ferrera (far right) on the show to discuss the President’s comments on immigration reform and the Dream Act. During commercial breaks, Matthews ventured into the audience and interviewed colorful constituents. After completing the filming, the host and his guests posed for the boisterous crowd.
It was three days of political theater. It’s impact is not yet clear, though the first waves of polls suggest a positive bounce in public opinion for the President. Eight weeks to Election Day.
All photos by Ilona Idlis.