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Obama Opts to Accept Nomination at Denver Stadium

July 7, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Sen. Barack Obama will forgo the Democratic convention floor when he accepts the Democratic nomination in August, opting instead to speak at the 75,000-seat stadium of the Denver Broncos. A reporter from the Denver Post discusses the decision.

GWEN IFILL: Barack Obama’s announcement today that he will give his convention speech at Denver’s outdoor football stadium means that 75,000 people will be on hand when he accepts his party’s nomination for president.

For more on that and what that means for both the Democratic Party and the host city of Denver, we’re joined by Chuck Plunkett, reporter for the Denver Post.

Welcome, Chuck.

CHUCK PLUNKETT, The Denver Post: Glad to be here, Gwen. Thanks for having me.

GWEN IFILL: Give us a sense of the difference. We were planning to be in Pepsi Center the night of the acceptance speech. Now we’re talking about going to Invesco Field. What’s the difference between the two?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: Well, the Pepsi Center holds about 20,000 people. And Invesco Field can hold 76,000 or more, if you allow people down on the football field.

GWEN IFILL: Which we’re assuming might happen in this case?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: Quite possibly. A lot of this is still being finalized.

GWEN IFILL: You say it’s being finalized. Has the Democratic National Committee given local reporters, local city officials any sense about what a difference this is going to make?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: There will be a media walkthrough that’s already scheduled. It takes place tomorrow at the Pepsi Center, where some of those plans will take place.

I know that there’s a lot of discussion going on right now. One of the things we’re trying to do is figure out how it’s exactly supposed to work.

But the idea is that Obama opens the doors to Invesco Field and lets in 50,000 or more of his grassroots-type supporters who have been so much a part of his campaign. And he wants to break tradition with the way things have been done and bring them into the fold, as opposed to just the credentialed few, so to speak.

Challenge for city, Democrats

GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the nuts and bolts of this. How much more is something like this going to cost?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: I plan to report tomorrow, based on an unnamed source, that it could raise as much as $3 million to the cost.

GWEN IFILL: Three million dollars. And who's supposed to pay for that?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: The host committee here in Denver is the civic group that's responsible for raising the already $40.6 million in private donations that it takes to host the convention. They will still be in charge of raising that money.

But the difference now, Gwen, will be that the Democratic Party's elite and the Barack Obama campaign are expected to really step in and help use this event and its historic significance to raise that remaining money.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any concern that this is going to put added pressure on the city's infrastructure?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: Well, it will. The mayor is excited that this is going to take place. If it comes off well, if it goes off well, he thinks that Denver will be remembered for quite some time for this event.

But you're essentially doing two of everything now, in terms of two security perimeters, two sets of protest areas for the demonstrators, and two sets of media logistics, even if they're somewhat more minimal over at Invesco than you had already.

Continuing the 'change' theme

GWEN IFILL: Are there political ramifications for a decision like this? For instance, we know that Barack Obama is trying to make a big play in the West. The Democrats want to make a big play in the West. You talk about opening the gates to all of these grassroots supporters. Is there a payoff in that?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: If it goes off well, I think it works for the candidate's contention that he wants to break down the barriers and be the candidate for change.

He can stand up on the 45th anniversary of the Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and graciously thank the legacy of Dr. King for enabling him to make the acceptance speech. He can allow in his grassroots supporters, many of whom are desperate to get in.

Here in Denver, we've had 22,000 volunteers for only 10,000 volunteer slots to help convention week, which gives you some sense of how desperate people are to be a part of this thing.

If it doesn't go off well, if it creates additional headaches, and is somehow held up as a mistake, I suppose you could lose some political capital there.

GWEN IFILL: You put it out correctly that this is the 45th anniversary of the actual date of the "I Have a Dream" speech at the march on Washington. You've been covering politics in Colorado and around the West for some time. We've seen Barack Obama get big crowds in other cities. Does he get big crowds like this in Colorado?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: Yes. In the early still-winter months, on a morning-time event at University of Denver, at the law school, he drew 16,000 people into a hall and an additional 4,000 or 5,000 spilled into overflow facilities. Some even stood outside.

That's a pretty big deal on a cold winter morning, meaning that you have to stand in line for several hours to get in and then commit to standing in a field listening to it broadcast over a soccer field stadium speakers, as opposed to getting to see him in the flesh.

Weather will be a wild card

GWEN IFILL: Speaking of the weather -- how can I put this delicately, Chuck, as someone who's going to be there -- what are the chances the weather is going to -- this is an open-air stadium. What are the chances the weather is going to hold out on that evening?

CHUCK PLUNKETT: Well, I'm not a weatherman, but I have lived in Denver for five years now, and the summers can have very violent storms in the afternoon. The heat builds up during the day, and then it just kinds of purges itself in the afternoon, sometimes with big rains.

They don't last very long, usually, and it dries out awfully fast, and the skies clear. There can be hail.

GWEN IFILL: Oh, good.

CHUCK PLUNKETT: There can be electricity, big hail. So he might be taking a bit of a gamble there, but then again, as you get closer to September, it mellows out. It calms down a bit more, so we'll see.

GWEN IFILL: We're counting on mellow, Chuck. Thank you so much for helping us out.

CHUCK PLUNKETT: OK, thanks. Glad to be here, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: Obama's speech at Invesco Field will cap four days spent highlighting a state and a region that Democrats hope they can move to their column in November. Judy Woodruff has that story.