Politico reports that “senior Democratic officials” have had second thoughts about the wisdom of the scope, scale, and setting for tonight’s Barack Obama speech at Invesco Field. The Greek temple set design appears to have been the last straw, and they now worry about the “rock star” impression that this will leave with American voters who increasingly see Obama as a fad and not a serious candidate. Democrats failed to foresee this despite nominating their least qualified and experienced candidate in decades, if not in their entire history:
From the elaborate stagecraft to the teeming crowd of 80,000 cheering partisans, the vagaries of the weather to the unpredictable audience reaction, the optics surrounding the stadium event have heightened worries that the Obama campaign is engaging in a high-risk endeavor in an uncontrollable environment.
A common concern: that the stadium appearance plays against Obama’s convention goal of lowering his star wattage and connecting with average Americans and that it gives Republicans a chance to drive home their message that the Democratic nominee is a narcissistic celebrity candidate.
“We already know he is a rock star, we already know he can bring 85,000 people together in a stadium. He has done it multiple times. He needs to talk to people who haven’t made up their minds yet,” said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.
“It’s likely that the campaign would do it differently if it had to do it again because the decision was made before the European trip,” said a senior Democratic elected officeholder who has worked closely with the Obama campaign. The GOP narrative of Obama as celebrity took root during that trip, where the Illinois senator played to large crowds of adoring Europeans.
This last statement seems curious. Granted, it takes weeks to design and build an elaborate stage for a large event, but didn’t it occur to Team Obama that they could scale it down instead? If they saw signs at the end of July that the arena-rock status played against Obama, why not just cancel the Greek temple and Invesco Field altogether?
It turns out that the event serves a higher purpose — fundraising:
The campaign noted that, aside from the speech itself, it’s designed to be “a working event” that enables attendees to phone bank and reach out to potential voters through a variety of online tools. Holding the speech in a venue that holds 80,000 people also allows tens of thousands of Colorado residents to attend and participate — no small consideration since Colorado is a battleground state where Obama and McCain are neck and neck in the polls.
“Phone bank” means primarily “raising money”. Even as a rally, though, the event is rather meaningless, made so by the bait-and-switch by Team Obama on the “free” tickets. In order to get the “free” tickets, applicants had to volunteer for the campaign, two hours per ticket. That turned this into a co-op, not an open rally where numbers matter. And if Obama can’t find 80,000 supporters in Denver, then he’s in pretty bad shape anyway.
Obama needs the speech as a direct fundraiser in other ways as well. He’s already hit up major contributors for million-dollar luxury suites and thousand-dollar VIP seating. His campaign broke a pledge to eschew PACs and lobbyists in order to wring every last cent out of this speech. Obama can’t simply cancel this and move it back to the Pepsi Center; it would cost him millions of dollars.
No, Obama is now stuck with the event, although he could still tone down the Greek temple setting. Apparently, to the consternation of his party, Obama doesn’t want to lose these trappings of celebrity, either.