Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was prescient when she told reporters in mid-January that she thought that her home state would lose out to Charlotte, North Carolina in its bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She was, of course, right. Charlotte will host the convention. And despite the Democratic National Convention and White House’s mute or non-committal response to news reporter’s queries about where the convention would be held, the choice of Charlotte over the other three cities under consideration, St, Louis, Cleveland, and Minneapolis, was really a fairly easy call.
There is the obvious reason. Charlotte is a top growth, cosmopolitan city, with a solid mix of high tech, retail businesses, and financial service industries. It has a solid, young, affluent, highly educated multiracial middle class, and a vibrant cultural scene. City officials and business leaders have rolled out the red carpet for the Democrats, promising to shell out upwards of $50 million to make the convention a success. The estimate is that the convention could pump $150 to 200 million in to the regional economy. That’s a major consideration for Charlotte. But that was not the only consideration for the Democrats in picking Charlotte.
Political parties choose cites for their conventions not because of cost but politics. The compelling question is how important is the host city and by extension the host state, to the president’s re-election, or if the sitting president is termed out, the vying contenders for the White House election? The question was just as compelling this time. Virginia and North Carolina were the two states that did as much as any of the other states to insure President Obama’s election. They were crucial not just for their electoral votes, but because they broke the GOP’s grip on the “solid South.” For decades Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and George W. Bush banked on bagging the electoral votes of the eleven states of the Old Confederacy.
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Their playing of the race card through a subtle mix of racially loaded coded words, phrases, and taunts at tax and spend Democrats, and big government, and their adroit stoking of the culture wars proved to be a winning strategy to insure White House dominance for the GOP. The strategy failed in 2008 largely because Obama and the Democrats mounted an all-out intense campaign that roused young, upwardly mobile, educated, Hispanics and especially African-American voters in North Carolina and Virginia to storm the polls in record numbers. The Democrats will do everything they can to repeat that political feat in 2012.
Charlotte spotlights the Democratic theme that there’s a New South, and that the region is no longer the bastion of race and political reaction, and that new industries, cultural influences, immigration, and political trends and forces are emerging that will in time remake the South. The presence of thousands of top Democrats and the president in Charlotte for a week of festivities, political glad handing, schmoozing, and strategizing will be an unparalleled media and political spectacle. It will continually sell the Democrat’s message that President Obama is not only a bankable president in the traditional Democratic stronghold states and regions, but he is also equally bankable in the South. The choice of Charlotte and the GOP’s choice of Tampa for its 2012 GOP convention also reinforce the tenuous but must win importance of the swing or battleground states to both parties. Obama and his GOP opponent will again spend a major portion of their time, energy and their party’s money on those states.
North Carolina was a near textbook political example of that in the 2008 election. Obama and running mate Joe Biden practically camped out in the state. They made a combined 16 campaign appearances there. In September, two months before Election Day, they held four campaign events in North Carolina. The GOP still operating under the illusion that North Carolina as in the past was in the bag for the party was glacially slow to see that things in the state had changed. The GOP finally woke up and scrambled to make up ground. McCain upped the total of his and Palin’s appearance to eight. But that came much too late in the game to reverse the momentum that Obama had built up in the state.
Democratic strategists know that the GOP won’t miss the boat again on North Carolina. It will have a strong and ongoing presence on the ground in the state throughout the campaign. The midterm elections sent a huge warning that North Carolina will be a tough fight for the Democrats. For the first time since 1898, the GOP took control of the state legislature. Holding the Democratic Convention in Charlotte is Obama’s hedge that North Carolina is winnable and that a victory there will do much to propel him back to the White House.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on ktym.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson