By Cash Michaels
It is the only Southern state that offered Barack Obama One Stop/Early Voting and Same Day Registration, enabling his 2008 presidential campaign not only to attract a treasure trove of new voters for both the Democratic primary and general election that year, but bank those ballots to eek out a razor slim 14,000-vote victory over Republican rival John McCain.
The Southern state that uniquely offered a dynamic mix of a sizable black vote, coupled with a large college-aged and professional voting bloc that, when turned out, would neutralize the strong conservative base in an otherwise “red” state.
And on May 6, 2008, it was the state that ultimately clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for president for the young senator from Illinois, and propelled him into history.
Those are just three of the many strategic reasons why Barack Obama, when given a choice by his closest political advisers, picked his favorite Southern state , North Carolina - a state Obama believes he can win again - to officially accept his party’s renomination for president of the United States.
Charlotte, one of the last cities for candidate Obama’s campaign the day before the Nov. 4, 2008 general election, was officially announced as the site for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3-6, 2012.
Over 35,000 Democratic delegates from across the nation, in addition to national and international press, are expected to rain down on North Carolina’s banking capital for what First Lady Michelle Obama, who broke the news Tuesday, calls “the People’s Convention.”
More than anything else, we want this to be a grassroots convention for the people,” Mrs. Obama wrote in an email to Democrats. “We will finance this convention differently than it's been done in the past, and we will make sure everyone feels closely tied in to what is happening in Charlotte. This will be a different convention, for a different time.”
City officials, led by Queen City Mayor Anthony Foxx, were elated Tuesday at being chosen over Cleveland, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo.; and Minneapolis, Minn. Their challenge now is to get Charlotte in shape - from hospitality to its arenas - to welcome the national throng. Boosters are already underway to raise the $53 million needed.
Foxx, a Democrat and African-American moderate Charlotte city councilman elected mayor fourteen months ago, is credited with building a close and evolving relationship with the president during the several times they’ve met.
Across that state , the pride was shared.
“Today’s decision is fantastic news for North Carolina regardless of your political party,” said Gov. Beverly Perdue in a statement. “A national political convention is a keystone event that will boost North Carolina’s economy, while showcasing Charlotte and our state to the nation and the world. What they will see when they get here is what hundreds of businesses already know – Charlotte’s smart investments in infrastructure, cultural attractions and amenities have produced a climate perfect for work and play.”
Even Sen. Kay Hagan [D-NC}, who benefited from the Obama wave in her own 2008 election, welcomed the news.
“I am thrilled that Charlotte has been picked to host the Democratic National Convention in 2012,” Sen. Hagan said in a statement. “The economic impact of the convention will be a terrific boost for the many businesses, restaurants, stores and hotels in Charlotte. Once visitors see everything we’ve got going on, I know it will promote tourism to the region in the future.”
“I can’t wait for the convention attendees to see firsthand why North Carolina is the best state in the nation.”
But beyond the obvious economic boost and tremendous exposure that North Carolina will get from the four-day national convention, the political reality escapes no one.
“If this decision is proof of anything, it’s proof that Barack Obama will be fighting hard for North Carolina in 2012, as he did in 2008,” David Parker, the newly elected chairman of the NC Democratic Party just last weekend, said via YouTube video.
It’s also solid proof that the southern, voter-rich states of Florida, Virginia, and of course, North Carolina - states that Obama won in 2008 - will definitely be in play again for the 2012 election effort.
“We’re looking at an expanding map rather than shrinking back to husband our resources and play defense,” Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former governor of Virginia, told The New York Times Tuesday. “We were very excited about winning North Carolina in 2008. Putting our convention there is a very serious sign that we intend to compete there again.”
Putting the convention in the Old North State also guarantees Kaine that neighboring Virginia will be part of whatever regional Southern strategy employed by the Obama 2012 campaign.
On the national level, observers say that Obama’s affection for North Carolina has been quite evident for sometime.
“When the president wanted to preview his "Sputnik Moment" speech last December, he did so in North Carolina, praising the region's track record at Research Triangle Park and technical-training facilities,” wrote Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post. “He stressed solar and biomedical research -- two of the industries he also mentioned in his State of the Union.”
Indeed, that December visit to Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem inspired the president to coin his newest campaign mantra, “Win the future.” His 2012 challenge will be to convince the rest of North Carolina, and the nation, to invest in that future, despite a massive budget deficit, and withering GOP opposition to cut spending.
But North Carolina and the president also have something else in common - when it comes to Democratic politics, both are politically moderate. Having North Carolina Democrats, known for their conservative views, to embrace what many at first thought was a “wide-eyed liberal” president but later proved to be quite moderate, would send a strong message to that crucial bloc of unaffiliated independent voters who lean right politically, but supported Obama two years ago, and could come back to the fold again.
In 2008, Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, gave Obama over a 100,000-vote advantage over Republican John McCain, thanks to One Stop/Early Voting, and massive voter registration and mobilization by over 2,000 boots on the ground statewide.
The campaign strategy in 2008 was daring, but simple. Because North Carolina was the only Southern state to offer One Stop-Early Voting/Same Day Registration - which was passed in 2006 after intense lobbying efforts by the NCNAACP, Democracy North Carolina, NC Fair Share and other progressive advocacy groups - the Obama campaign decided North Carolina offered a unique opportunity to pile up as many votes as possible during the early voting period in both the 2008 primary and general election.
That strategy worked against both Hillary Clinton in the primary, where Obama’s commanding 23-point lead in the polls shrank to just 14 points, courtesy of the raging Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy; and again in November 2008, where out of 4.2 million ballots cast in the general, Obama’s vote bank withstood McCain’s Election Day charge by 14,000.
The victory made Obama the first Democrat, since Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, that North Carolina helped to win the White House.
Though the campaign hopes that lightning will strike twice, there are new challenges for the president as he faces re-election. For starters, Obama will now have an extensive record in office with which the press, the public, and certainly his Republican opposition will hold him to.
The state of both the national and North Carolina’s economy will most certainly play a role in the success or failure of the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is slowly recovering, with the unemployment rate here dropping incrementally below 10 percent compared to the national figures.
And of course, with North Carolina being a military state, with prominent bases like Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson Air Force base at hand, the state of America’s war effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq will also be charged to Pres. Obama’s record while in office.
Still, North Carolina is a big gamble for the Obama campaign to count on again, some observers say.
"Despite being warned by some very smart demographers within the Obama camp, I was plumb wrong about Obama's chances of carrying North Carolina in 2008. He did win, but narrowly, and I'm willing to go double or nothing that, barring a disastrous GOP nominee or campaign, Obama will not repeat in the Tar Heel state in 2012," Tom Schaller, a political science professor and author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, told The Huffington Post. "The Charlotte choice can't hurt, but it won't help that much."
But former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who helped to strategize the party’s 2008 50-state strategy, disagrees.
“I don't know what the deciding factor was,” Dean told The Huffington Post. “But Charlotte is very well equipped for this so I think it will be a good convention and it is a swing state and I think that's good for us."