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Charlotte, N.C. • President Barack Obama swept into his convention city Wednesday, eager to accept his party's nomination and make the case for re-election despite a sputtering economy. He hoped to claim a little luster from Bill Clinton's prime-time address to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.
In a last-minute shift, the president ditched plans to deliver his acceptance speech before a throng of 74,000 at an outdoor stadium on the convention's final night, citing iffy weather for Thursday. With a chance of thunderstorms on the horizon, Obama will accept his party's nomination indoors before about 15,000 people at the Time Warner Cable Arena.
Convention CEO Steve Kerrigan said the speech was moved "to ensure the safety and security of our delegates and convention guests." But GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski cast it as Democrats downgrading the event "due to lack of enthusiasm."
"Problems filling the seats?" she asked in a statement.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, dismissed the risks of speaking "during a light September rain" and speculated the decision "has to do more with attendance than participation."
Whatever the reason, the shift ensured there would be no repeat of the extraordinary scene from 2008, when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in a packed-to-the-gills, 84,000-seat stadium in Denver, complete with ivory columns on the 50-yard line. Republicans mocked that as "The Temple of Obama."
The move also reduced the likelihood of anti-Obama hecklers, since most of those in the crowd will be official convention participants.
Obama planned a national conference call Thursday to those who won't get in to the smaller hall.
Clinton's convention speech Wednesday will be a high point in a checkered relationship between two men who sparred, sometimes sharply, in the 2008 primaries, when the ex-president was supporting wife Hillary's campaign for the nomination.
Democrats hope that as the last president to preside over sustained economic growth, Clinton can help propel this president to re-election in less rosy times. His wife seen as a potential presidential candidate again for 2016 will be worlds away from the debate, in distance and substance. Obama's secretary of state, she will be midway through an 11-day tour of the Asia-Pacific region and should be in East Timor by the time her husband speaks.
Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, said flatly the president just wasn't up to the job.
"Anyone who wants him to try again will be making a big mistake," Romney said in an interview that aired on Fox News Channel. The GOP nominee, staying in Vermont, has been spending the Democratic convention week preparing for fall debates with Obama.
He framed the economic debate against Obama in an email to supporters, writing that "no president in modern history has ever asked to be re-elected with this many Americans out of work. Twenty-three million Americans are struggling for work, and more families wake up in poverty than ever before."
GOP running mate Paul Ryan, campaigning in Iowa, kept up his running criticism of the Democrats. He predicted Clinton and the Democrats would offer "a great rendition of how good things were in the 1990s. But we're not going to hear much about how things have been in the last four years."
Ryan cast the country's economic struggles in grim terms, noting the national debt reached $16 trillion on Tuesday. "That's a country in decline," he said.
To bolster Romney and Ryan, conservative groups announced nearly $13 million in new ad spending to counter Obama's convention.
American Crossroads planned to spend $6.6 million over the next 10 days on an ad that criticizes the economy under Obama's watch and Americans for Prosperity is spending another $6.2 million on ads criticizing the Democrats' health-care overhaul.
Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor who served under both Clinton and Obama, made the rounds of morning talk shows Wednesday to trace a connection between the two presidents, speaking of "similar values, similar policies and similar objectives."
Clinton "can do nothing but help" Obama, Emanuel said, rejecting any notion that Clinton's ability to get things done and work with Republicans would somehow diminish perceptions of Obama.
But former Republican New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, writing in the New Hampshire Union Leader, said Clinton's speech "will serve to remind the world of a time when the leadership of the Democratic Party took fiscal responsibility seriously. It might even induce nostalgia for the days of balanced budgets and bipartisan accomplishments such as welfare reform."
The GOP released a new Web video showcasing the story of a man who lost his job and got back on his feet through the welfare-to-work requirements enacted under Clinton. Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus repeated the widely debunked claim that Obama was gutting the work requirements, "holding back the prosperity of so many who are scraping to get by."
Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, making the case for Obama's economic policies in an appearance on MSNBC, said the president has a strong argument to make that people are doing better, but she acknowledged that "Americans are sitting around the breakfast table trying to figure out to make ends meet, so we have work to do."
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, spoke at a breakfast with Iowa delegates and urged party activists to get fully behind Obama in the next two months.
"We have 60 days to turn to our neighbors, to find common ground, to appeal to their good intentions and to create a country of more by re-electing Barack Obama president of the United States," he said.
The Obama campaign insisted the decision to relocate his speech had nothing to do with worries about filling the stadium.
"Our concern was more about turning people away than about filling the stadium," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama made his way to Charlotte.
Not only were there 65,000 people with tickets to Obama's speech, Psaki said, but another 19,000 were on a waiting list.
On the day after her big speech to the convention that sketched her husband in warm and personal terms, Michelle Obama told supporters at a luncheon promoting gay rights that it was time to get to work.
"We need you out there every single day between now and Nov. 6," she said. "You see my face? I'm serious? It's my serious first lady face. "My 'mom' face."
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jennifer Agiesta and Jack Gillum in Washington, Kasie Hunt in Vermont, Thomas Beaumont and Steve Peoples in Iowa, and Ben Feller, Ken Thomas, Matt Michaels and Jim Kuhnhenn in Charlotte contributed to this report.
What to watch at the convention Wednesday
Some things to watch for at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday:
THE CLINTON SHOW • The former president, no stranger to talking at length at Democratic conventions, takes the podium. How much of it will be about Barack Obama and how much about Bill Clinton?
ELIZABETH WARREN • It's a personal mission for the Democratic Party to get the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat back from the Republicans. Candidate Warren's opponent, Republican Scott Brown, didn't speak at his convention last week. But Warren is a star at the Democrats' and the featured challenger in arguably the most competitive Senate race this year.
OBAMA GOOD FOR BUSINESS • That's what some CEOs on tap to speak are undoubtedly going to trumpet. But what will they have to say about Mitt Romney?
CHARLOTTE IS HOPPING • It's a totally different feel from last week in Tampa. Streets are packed, in part because there are more delegates, in part because of a smaller security perimeter and the convention hall's proximity to the city and restaurants.