When Sen. Barack Obama announced in early July that he would give his nomination address in an outdoor stadium in front of 75,000 people, he wowed members of both parties who saw it as an inspired stroke of campaign image making.
But as he landed here Wednesday and prepared to become the first presidential candidate in nearly 50 years to accept his party’s nomination on such a big stage, the plan seemed as much risky as bold.
With daunting challenges of logistics, style and substance, the plan was hatched before the Republicans began a concerted drive to paint Obama as a media sensation lacking the resume to be president. Now Obama aides are feeling all the more pressure to bring a lofty candidacy to ground level, showing that Obama grasps the concerns of everyday Americans.
On Wednesday, workers were still making changes to Invesco Field, home to the Denver Broncos, so it would feel more intimate, less like the boisterous rallies that served Obama so well early in the primaries, but also created the celebrity image that dogs him.
They were still testing camera angles, so Obama would appear among the giant crowd, not above it. They took steps to reduce the echo effect, familiar to football fans, of speaking in such a cavernous space. Planners scrapped their idea to turn the audience of 75,000 into a giant phone bank, in response to fears that the cell phone system would crash (people will instead be asked to text-message friends and neighbors to support the campaign, program aides said would be effective nonetheless.)
And workers put the finishing touches on the backdrop — faux columns intended to suggest a federal building in Washington and create an air of stateliness. (The McCain campaign quickly named it the “Temple of Obama,” a label repeated by some media commentators.)
For Obama, the dramatic setting of the speech stands in contrast to the “workmanlike” message he intends to offer.
“I’m not aiming for a lot of high rhetoric,” Obama said Wednesday as he made his way to Denver. “I am much more concerned with communicating how I intend to help middle-class families live their lives.”
Obama holed up in a Chicago hotel for hours over the weekend, and worked on the address well into the night this week with a small group of aides. He has studied several acceptance speeches, including Bill Clinton’s in 1992, Ronald Reagan’s in 1980 and John F. Kennedy’s in 1960.
“I have been working hard on it,” Obama said, answering a reporter’s question about how this speech compares to the keynote address he delivered four years ago. “Do I feel pressure? I think people know that I can give the kind of speech that I gave four years ago. That’s not the question on voters’ minds.”
Some aides worried about the setting overwhelming the message. But those closest to the planning said they had no regrets and were sticking to the sort of big-event politics that no other candidate has been able to match this year.
“We are leaning into this, how can you not?” said Jenny Backus, a campaign strategist working on the convention plan.