Sep 3, 2012— -- For Democrats, this year's convention in Charlotte, N.C., is slimmer and trimmer than in years past, clocking in at three days of official business, with one day turned over to a public event.
"Instead of holding a closed-door four-day affair, we've replaced one day of convention programming with a free, public event to kick-off the convention," Democratic National Convention Committee spokesperson Joanne Peters told ABC News.
At first pass, a shorter convention might not seem like a big deal. While convention organizers say it helps to open the convention to the people, even if only for another day, others see the curtailment as a potential red flag of fundraising woes.
The original plan started with a typical Monday opening and included four days of convention business -- just as Democrats have done for years.
But in January, organizers announced they were scaling it back.
"The convention program will be three days instead of the traditional four to make room for organizing day and celebrating #DNC2012 the host community," the convention committee Tweeted from its account, @DemConvention.
The schedule change nixed Monday's convention activities in favor of a free festival on Labor Day called CarolinaFest 2012, intended to celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia and the South, according to an announcement. The grassroots festival was slated for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a NASCAR track about 14 miles from main convention business at Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena.
Organizers said the added festival was a way to engage more of the public in convention activities and make it an event for the people.
"This convention isn't about political ritual and speeches on the floor," said Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, in January. "It's about the American people coming together to commit ourselves, and our country, to a path that creates more opportunity for all Americans."
But the game plan changed again in June, when organizers plucked CarolinaFest 2012 from the racetrack and moved it to downtown Charlotte.
Convention officials pointed to logistical reasons for shifting it closer to official convention venues. Still, the change led to swelling rumors that Democrats were struggling to meet their fundraising goals.
The Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee is the nonprofit arm charged with raising enough money to run the convention, and it has a $36.6 million contract with the DNCC.
For the first time in history, this host committee is operating under a set of strict fundraising rules: It's not allowed to take money from corporations, PACs or lobbyists, and it can't accept individual donations of more than $100,000.
The host committee is sponsoring CarolinaFest 2012 on its own -- meaning it's not part of that $36.6 million, and it will include corporate cash, according to the DNCC.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose city plays host to the Republicans this week, said he's not jealous of the uphill climb Charlotte organizers face with those fundraising rules.
"It's like fighting with both hands tied behind their back," said Buckhorn. "I would've been very, very frustrated if I had to operate under the same restrictions."
Buckhorn -- who is a Democratic delegate making the trip to Charlotte this year -- wouldn't say how much the Republican convention host committee has raised but said he's "fairly certain" it's ahead of "the poor guys in Charlotte."
Still, convention organizers insist the CarolinaFest 2012 move has nothing to do with money.
Democrats rented out the Time Warner Cable Arena for two-and-a-half months, and cutting the convention short does not mean a cost savings: They pay the same rental fee whether they host four days of convention activities or three, according to DNCC officials.
"We are doing just fine, and we will have a great convention," said Suzi Emmerling, spokesperson for the Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee. She wouldn't go into details about numbers but said the host committee will release its fundraising totals "compliant with SEC regulations" in mid-October.
With the addition of CarolinaFest 2012, the Democratic convention will become the first in history to both open and close with events open to the public.
CarolinaFest 2012 kicks off with the Charlotte Labor Day Parade at 10 a.m., then a street festival with music, food, entertainment and interactive exhibits along Tyron Street.
The convention wraps Sept. 6, with President Obama's nomination acceptance speech at the Bank of America Stadium. The speech is also open to the public for people who sign up online through a community credentialing process.
"We are revolutionizing conventions to make them more open, accessible and relevant to the American people," Peters said. "We are empowering Americans to participate and including more people than ever before."
The Democratic National Convention will be held Sept. 4 to 6 in the Time Warner Cable Arena and the Bank of America Stadium.