CHARLOTTE, N.C., Sept. 6, 2012 -- It won't be the grandiose backdrop that he had envisioned, but maybe it's just as well.
President Obama tonight will accept the Democratic nomination for a second presidential term inside the Time Warner Cable Arena here facing a wave of discouraging economic data, a potential bombshell of an August jobs report expected Friday, and a lingering longing for the spirit of the 2008 convention and the promise it represented.
The number of Americans receiving food-stamps hit record highs in June, the Agriculture Department reported Tuesday, topping 46.7 million, up 3.3 percent over the year. The manufacturing sector, which had been an economic bright spot, contracted in August for only the third time since July 2009, according to an industry trade group. And the unemployment rate hovers above 8 percent following a summer of sluggish job growth.
Obama had been slated to kick off the final stretch of his campaign at a rock-concert-style event inside the 74,000-seat outdoor Bank of America Stadium here. But Democratic National Convention organizers announced Wednesday that they were moving his acceptance speech indoors because the possibility of dangerous thunderstorms was a threat to public safety.
Whether or not the decision involved ulterior motives, the smaller venue of 15,000 seats presents a more intimate and comparatively subdued setting for Obama's big pitch. There won't be a balloon drop to conclude the evening in traditional celebratory flair, organizers said.
The president plans to use the moment to "savor" his first term accomplishments, he told supporters in an email this week. Political strategists said he'll need to present a compelling case for how the country is better off four years on.
Only 31 percent of Americans believe the country is on the "right track," according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Sixty-seven percent say it's on the "wrong path."
"Are the American people better off than they were in Sept. 2008 when we were losing 432,000 jobs a month? I would say yes," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki this week. "Is there more we need to do? Absolutely. The president has spoken about that at nearly every event he's done. He'll continue to talk about it in the months ahead."
On the economy, voters give Romney a slight edge when asked who would do a better job, 46 percent to Obama's 44 percent, in the same ABC/Post poll.
While Obama has outlined a broad economic vision for the country -- an approach that emphasizes higher taxes on wealthier Americans to fund greater investments in education and infrastructure -- he has offered scant detail about if and when the recovery will proceed more quickly and create millions of new jobs. He is asking voters to trust that the status quo will be the better path.
"When Gov. Romney had his chance to let you in on his 'secret sauce' he didn't offer you a single new idea. It was just a retread of the same old policies that have been sticking it to the middle class for years," Obama told supporters at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, last week.
"I will offer you what I believe is a better path forward," he said, "a path that will grow this economy and create more good jobs, and strengthen our idle class and create ladders for everybody who's working hard to get into the middle class. And the good news is you're going to get to choose."
Aides said the president's moment in the spotlight would also be an opportunity for to energize the base, with grassroots supporters planning hundreds of watch parties around the country. Democrats have also heavily promoted a free live stream of Obama's speech on smartphones and online, with pre- and post-speech conversation hosted by actor Kal Penn.
Obama will be preceded Thursday night by speeches from 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.
First lady Michelle Obama, who addressed delegates on Tuesday, will watch her husband's speech from inside a VIP suite at the arena. She will be joined by daughters Sasha and Malia, whom aides said would make a day trip to Charlotte after school.
Ahead of the president, attendees will be treated to a star-studded concert featuring performances by the Foo Fighters, Mary J. Blige, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Taylor, and Marc Anthony, among others.