Democratic Convention Goes to Charlotte

Molly Ball and Jonathan Martin


Feb 1, 2011

Charlotte, N.C., will be the host city of the 2012 Democratic convention, the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday, sending a signal that President Barack Obama plans to compete aggressively for the Southern state next year.

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, in an e-mail to committee members Tuesday morning, called it a “tough choice.” He congratulated Charlotte on its selection and called it “an ideal location.”

The party picked Charlotte over St. Louis, Minneapolis and Cleveland for the event to be held the week of Sept. 3, 2012.

In an e-mail to members of Organizing for America later Tuesday morning, first lady Michelle Obama called Charlotte “a city marked by its Southern charm, warm hospitality and an ‘up-by-the-bootstraps’ mentality that has propelled the city as one of the fastest-growing in the South.” She also cited its “great barbecue.”

Barack Obama narrowly carried North Carolina in 2008, and the administration has lavished attention on the Tar Heel State in the years since in hopes that it again will be in the Democratic column in 2012. (See POLITICO 2012 LIVE)

Charlotte’s convention bid touted it as an exemplar of the cosmopolitan “new South.” But the city also has potential drawbacks: Its hotels are not unionized. It is a hub for the banking industry — a sometime populist villain. And the local NAACP recently called for a boycott after the city’s public schools used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a makeup for snow days.

Still, Charlotte officials hailed the selection Tuesday.

“We have an unmatched opportunity to show the world what a beautiful, energetic, innovative and diverse city we are building in Charlotte,” Mayor Anthony Foxx said in a news release. “As we tell the story of Charlotte, and what a great place our city, state and region are to live and do business, we also will tell the story of America to our fellow citizens and our neighbors around the world.”

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy Corp. and co-chairman of the city’s convention bid, said the convention would put Charlotte on the map in a major way. “Charlotte’s selection clearly elevates our city to a new level in national and world stature,” he said.

In her e-mail to supporters, Michelle Obama called for a grass-roots “People’s Convention” and provided a link for online input.

“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,” she wrote. “This will be a different convention, for a different time.”

She noted, “Barack and I spent a lot of time in North Carolina during the campaign — from the Atlantic Coast to the Research Triangle to the Smoky Mountains and everywhere in between. Barack enjoyed Asheville so much when he spent several days preparing for the second presidential debate that our family vacationed there in 2009. And my very first trip outside of Washington as first lady was to Fort Bragg, where I started my effort to do all we can to help our heroic military families.”

Although studies show that political parties’ choice of convention state has no apparent effect on their electoral performance there, the site inevitably becomes part of a story the party hopes to tell about its path to victory.

In 2008, Democrats chose Denver as part of a narrative designed to highlight the interior West as a new battleground region; the party, with Obama atop the ticket, went on to win Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. The RNC’s 2008 selection of St. Paul, however, couldn’t save the party’s chances in Minnesota.

The 2012 GOP convention is slated to be held in Tampa, Fla., another perennial swing state.

Officials in St. Louis, which along with Charlotte was an unofficial front-runner for the convention, expressed disappointment but sent well wishes to the winner.

“The news today ... was not what we all wanted to hear, but we offer sincere congratulations to Charlotte and look forward to being there in September of 2012,” St. Louis Host Committee and city Democratic Chairman Brian Wahby wrote in a statement.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat, said on his blog that he believed the party made its decision because of the dim electoral prospects Missouri offers. Obama narrowly lost the state in 2008.

“St. Louis was not selected for 2012 for reasons of electoral politics,” he wrote. “That is a decision of the president and his reelection team. I will not fault it. ... We just aren’t the South.”

Democrats suffered massive losses in the South in 2010, leading many to conclude that the party can no longer compete in the region and might focus its energies elsewhere as Obama seeks reelection. But party strategists believe Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, all of which Obama won previously, are not out of reach in a high-turnout presidential election.

The selection of Charlotte, a senior Democratic official said, “should put to rest any notion that the presidential map in 2012 is going to shrink. President Obama will be very active in North Carolina and ... despite what some have speculated, we are going to go as big in 2012 as we did in 2008 — and that means fighting hard for North Carolina, Virginia and all the states and more that helped elect President Obama in the first place.”

North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Bev Purdue, who is up for reelection in 2012, as well as a Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, who is not. Foxx, the mayor of Charlotte, is viewed as one of the Democratic Party’s African-American rising stars.

DNC Chairman and former Virginia Gov. Kaine, another Southerner, said in his e-mail, “In less than two years, I look forward to coming together with you to renominate President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for a second term — and to help propel them to victory in November 2012.”

Republicans were quick to signal they plan to put up a fight.

“We look forward to Charlotte being in the spotlight in 2012, but North Carolinians will not be fooled again by empty promises of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change,’” North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement.

“Just last November, North Carolinians rejected the failed policies of President Obama and Gov. Perdue and elected Republicans to lead the North Carolina state House and state Senate for the first time in over 100 years,” he added. “We welcome the Democrats to Charlotte, but they must answer for their misguided policies that have led to more debt, more spending and more government.”

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