Obama, party try to put platform flap behind them

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Associated Press

Posted on September 6, 2012 at 2:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Sep 6 at 7:01 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A stirring speech by former President Bill Clinton and a surprise appearance by President Barack Obama seemed — for a moment at least — to take the sting out of back-to-back glitches that upset Obama's carefully scripted convention.

In a matter of hours, Obama's team dealt with a potentially severe weather forecast by moving his Thursday nomination speech to a smaller, inside venue. Under criticism from Republicans, Democrats hurriedly added references to God and Jerusalem to the party platform.

The goal when both unexpected issues arose was to move quickly to minimize risk, lest the president look disorganized and uncertain just a day before he takes the stage to make his case for a second term.

Top Democrats hoped the sight of Clinton and Obama embracing Wednesday night would alleviate any disappointment Democratic loyalists felt about Obama scrapping plans to speak in a 74,000-seat football stadium, choosing a much smaller basketball arena instead. They also were banking on the spectacle of two former presidents drowning out the other spectacle of Democrats scrambling to change the party platform at the last minute.

The severe weather forecast and the platform tussle clearly threw Obama's campaign for a loop.

As Wednesday began, his aides and convention officials, citing threatening weather, announced they would abandon plans to have the president address delegates, supporters and the nation from Bank of America Stadium, home of the National Football League's Carolina Panthers. The speech will now occur in the Time Warner Cable Arena where the rest of the convention has been held this week, with seating for about 15,000 people.

Republicans and aides to Republican challenger Mitt Romney were quick to suggest the Obama camp had been unable to assemble a big enough crowd for the outdoor event. The day before, Obama's campaign manager had declared the president would speak at the stadium "rain or shine ... unless we're putting people at risk."

But campaign officials said Wednesday they worried about a thunderstorm creating safety concerns and said they feared alienating voters in the closely contested state if they changed venues at the last minute or held a rain-soaked event.

"I'm a tough Texas lady and I can take some rain," said Susan Bankston, 65, a delegate from Richmond, Texas. But an outdoor crowd bedecked in ponchos would send the wrong message, she said. "That's not good imagery for the Democratic Party. We don't run around in hoods."

Non-delegates who hoped to see the president, however, were crestfallen. "It sounded like I was going to be able to get a seat in the stadium and now there's just not enough room here," said Maureen Lowe, who was in the convention hall Wednesday as a guest of a delegate.

Within hours, the party was trying to squelch a storm inside the arena.

Lambasted by Republicans, Obama and party officials pushed through amendments that declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and added a call for a government that lets willing workers make the most of their "God-given potential."

But a chaotic scene on the convention floor and three inconclusive voice votes only drew more attention.

Inserting God and Jerusalem in the platform, which had been approved the day before, required a two-thirds vote of the delegates.

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, called for a voice vote, the ayes and nays were equally loud. He called for a second. The result was louder but still uncertain. Villaraigosa appeared to look for help from the sidelines and then called for yet another vote. He then declared the amendments passed.

Angry delegates booed, exposing the intra-party tensions on Israel.

Republicans seized on the floor vote.

Sean Spicer, communications director of the Republican National Committee, mischievously tweeted: "God and Jerusalem booed 3 times on floor of Dem convention - now I get where concern abt light(n)ing tomorrow come from."

Both revisions reinstated language included in the 2008 Democratic Party platform. But the hurried effort to correct the document Wednesday underscored the Obama camp's desire to deny Romney any opening that could expand his support among white, working-class voters or help him peel away Jewish voters and donors.

The platform already contained language asserting an "enduring commitment to Israel's security." And it also contained a plank on faith, declaring that the nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom and the ability of people to worship as they please.

But GOP officials argued that not taking a position on Jerusalem's status in the party platform raised questions about Obama's support for the Mideast ally. Romney, in an interview with Fox News before the changes were made, said omitting God "suggests a party that is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of the American people."

The changes added a declaration that Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

While the two sentiments appear to be at odds, a campaign official said the support for Jerusalem as the capital reflected Obama's personal views, while the reference to negotiations represented longstanding U.S. foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the changes, conceded Obama and the party were "threading the needle."

Following the decision, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who offered the amendments from the arena floor, said the changes were "an effort to bring clarification."

Some delegates were angered by the change.

"There was no discussion. ... We were blindsided by it," said Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim delegate from Salt Lake City who questioned whether the convention had enough of a quorum to even amend the platform.

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn

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