WASHINGTON -- For a party trying to cast itself as fighters for the middle class against Wall Street greed, Democrats are making some curious choices -- at least symbolically -- when it comes to planning for their 2012 convention.
They don't think it's a problem that they're holding their convention in Charlotte, N.C., a city sometimes referred to as "The Wall Street of the South." They also don't think it's a big deal that President Barack Obama is slated to accept the Democratic presidential nomination at Bank of America Stadium, named for the bank that received a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis and sparked outrage by imposing a $5 monthly debit card fee on its customers. The fee was later dropped.
Democratic officials are also downplaying reports that the real reason they're choosing to hold the final day of their convention at Bank of America Stadium isn't because it means more seats for convention attendees, but because it would allow them to sell more skyboxes to wealthy donors.
Regardless of how much credence they give to such details, the visuals are a stark contrast to the populist image that Democrats are trying to project ahead of the November elections. Obama and congressional Democrats have been ramping up rhetoric about Republicans siding with big banks and wealthy people, while Democrats stand up for average Americans in need of jobs, health care and education.
"They will fight with their last breath to protect tax cuts for the most fortunate Americans," Obama said last week at a Chicago fundraiser. "We cannot go back to this brand of 'you are on your own economics.'"
Any irony in holding the Democratic National Convention at Bank of America Stadium was lost on Democrats involved in convention planning, however. Most said they hadn't heard of the "Wall Street of the South" moniker; some noted, after spontaneous Google searches, that other cities including Galveston and Atlanta have also been slapped with the title. Charlotte gets the name because it is home to Bank of America world headquarters and the East Coast headquarters of Wells Fargo, which makes it the nation's second-largest banking center after New York.
"It's just not a common term. It's not like with Detroit being 'The Motor City,' people go, 'Charlotte is the Wall Street of the South,'" said a senior Democratic official involved in convention planning. The idea that Charlotte is associated with Wall Street is "a made-up controversy."
"There is no risk that the Democratic message will be impacted," said another senior Democratic source, particularly "with the House Republicans and GOP presidential candidates falling over each other on who's going to destroy the Wall Street reform law."
Others thought it actually helped their party's image to have their convention embedded in a town known as "Wall Street South."
"This is a chance for Democrats to show how strong their populist message really is," said a Democratic official. "Going to the 'Wall Street of the South' to stand up for the middle class sounds almost Sister Souljah."
As for gathering at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 6, Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Steve Kerrigan told supporters Monday that the new venue means thousands more Obama supporters can attend.
"I'm excited to announce to you first that we plan to make history once again and break with conventions of the past by opening the doors to more people than ever before," Kerrigan said in an email. "From format to funding, this convention will increase the influence of people like you and bring more Americans into the conversation than ever before."
Bank of America Stadium holds significantly more seats than Time Warner Cable Arena, where the first two days of the convention are taking place. The arena holds about 20,000, compared with Bank of America Stadium's nearly 74,000 seats. Kristie Greco, communications director for the convention, said decisions about convention planning have been driven by a desire to engage more people in the process, not by money.
"The president turned the economy around making sure that everyone, from Wall Street to Main Street, plays by the same rules. His record and his policies are not impacted by the name on the stadium. They're impacted by the kind of convention we're holding, which is open and inclusive. And they're impacted by what he is fighting for, to reclaim the security of the middle class by restoring the basic values that made our country great. We're increasing the influence of the grassroots, not accepting cash donations from corporations, lobbyists and PACs or individual donations over $100,000," Greco said.
A senior Democratic official was more blunt about the benefits of having more big-ticket contributors at the event.
"Putting on a convention is expensive. The money has to come from somewhere," said this official. "It's not like you're not going to have people bankrolling some of the convention."
Still, the official said, the bottom line is that Bank of America Stadium "may open up a few more boxes, but in general, it opens it up to far more individuals than if it were in a closed stadium."