By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Democrats are closely watching the forecasts as a rainy week unfolds ahead of President Barack Obama's speech accepting his party's nomination.
With Obama set to address supporters in Charlotte's open-air football stadium on Thursday, party officials insist the speech will go on even if it rains. After all, they said the stadium's main tenant, the Carolina Panthers NFL team, plays no matter the weather.
"We have an advisory team that's closely watching the weather, working with our team, and if any changes need to be made, we'll make them," said Jennifer Psaki, Obama's traveling press secretary.
The National Weather Service says the forecast for Thursday night is improving, with just a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms by the time Obama is scheduled to speak around 10:30 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium. There is a 40 percent chance of storms in the afternoon.
Plans will only change if the weather turns severe, said Democratic National Convention Committee spokeswoman Joanne Peters.
"Safety is the top priority, and if we have to activate a contingency plan due to severe weather, we will make a determination with enough time for arrangements to be made," she said.
Organizers refused Tuesday to release any details about those contingency plans, including whether the president would speak somewhere else, what would be done with the more than 60,000 ticketholders for the event and how much time it would take to execute those plans.
Democrats have also worried for months about filling the stadium so crowd shots look good on television during the speech. They are bringing in busloads of church members and college students from North Carolina and South Carolina, but the threat of bad weather could keep people at home.
Obama's staffers dismissed that possibility Tuesday.
"We're absolutely confident we're going to have an energetic crowd, a full crowd, in the stadium Thursday evening," Psaki said.
But there are negatives from a rain-soaked crowd too, said Leonard Steinhorn, professor of public communication at the American University in Washington, D.C.
It wouldn't look good to TV viewers if they see a less-than-capacity crowd looking miserable in raincoats. Also, it is harder to collect personal information from the crowd that can be used later to recruit campaign volunteers if clipboards and attendees are waterlogged, Steinhorn said.
If strong storms roll over the stadium, it could become one of the defining moments of the convention. "The weather could be the Democrats' Clint Eastwood," Steinhorn said, referring to the actor's unscripted and rambling appearance at last week's Republican convention.
"That's a roll of the dice that you take when you create a circumstance that they cannot fully control," he said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Democratic National Convention events are taking place indoors at the city's basketball arena.
Charlotte has had some rain every day since Saturday, and nearly an inch fell in a sudden storm Monday. Both conventions have been plagued with rain. More than three inches fell in Tampa while delegates were there last week for the Republican gathering.
A downpour likely wouldn't be enough to bother Obama's speech, but the main worry is lightning. The storms possible Thursday night are ones typical for the South in late summer. They can pop up quickly and move slowly.
"The main concern would be any lightning near the stadium," said Jeffrey Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
For football games at the stadium, officials urge fans to go into the concourses when there is a threat of lightning.
Obama has given memorable speeches in the rain before. In October 2008, he got soaked speaking in the suburbs of Philadelphia while Republican rival John McCain canceled his remarks a short distance away.
Obama praised the crowd of 9,000 people for braving the bone-chilling rain and wind, saying that kind of dedication would win him the presidency.
"If we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we're not going to bring change to America," he said.