Democratic National Convention: 1 year, and counting

Jim Morrill and Tim Funk

The Charlotte Observer

Sep 7, 2011

Democrats celebrate their party's convention coming to town next September.

Kathy Wright, left, of Charlotte and Rachel Watkins of Toluca, N.C., show off their new 2012 Democratic National Convention souvenirs following the rally Tuesday in Charlotte at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Kathy Wright, left, of Charlotte and Rachel Watkins of Toluca, N.C., show off their new 2012 Democratic National Convention souvenirs following the rally Tuesday in Charlotte at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Democrats launched the one-year countdown to the party's 2012 national convention Tuesday with a pep rally that touted Charlotte as well as the president they expect to renominate in the city next year.

It came a year from the day President Barack Obama would accept the nomination - and on the day a new national poll showed his job approval at a record low.

Tuesday also brought an escalation in the battle for North Carolina, a state Obama won by just 14,000 votes in 2008.

"I don't have to tell you how important North Carolina is going to be to the next presidential election," national party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told an estimated 2,000 people in the concourse of Time Warner Cable Arena. "Together we'll keep North Carolina blue."

But the Republican National Committee launched a radio ad in North Carolina and seven other states that Obama carried, blasting his record on jobs, health care and spending.

"It's morning again in America. Is Barack Obama finally waking up?" the ad says. "After a 10-day luxury vacation on Martha's Vineyard, the president says he'll finally get serious about jobs."

The rally, heralded by a marching band from Livingstone College, attracted Democrats, students and party supporters from the region. It also drew vendors hoping to capitalize on an event expected to draw more than 35,000 people next Sept. 3-6.

"This is great for our state," said Carrie Peele, a director of the N.C. and National Limousine Associations. "We're going to bring in (limos) from all over North Carolina."

Mayor Anthony Foxx described Charlotte as a city that historically has "reached for the future." He announced four community initiatives he hopes can be a "legacy" of the convention: engaging young people, joining First Lady Michelle Obama's child nutrition efforts, promoting small businesses and making the city "a model of (energy) sustainability."

"Welcome to the future, welcome to Charlotte," he said.

Wasserman Schultz said Democrats chose Charlotte because the city "has a story to tell." She called it a city "that reflects America in the 21st century (and) an example of the can-do spirit."

But she and others made clear that the convention is all about Obama's re-election.

To underscore that, they unveiled a logo - a red, white and blue circle - that echoes the one Obama used in 2008.

The president's low polls

The rally came hours after a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed just 43 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance, a new low. A Politico/George Washington University poll showed 72 percent of U.S. voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Obama is scheduled to make a new jobs proposal Thursday. Speaking to reporters, Wasserman Schultz, a House member from Florida, said the president is prepared to make jobs an election issue if her GOP congressional colleagues balk at his initiative.

Even Democrats at the rally expect a fight in a state Obama carried by just 14,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast. Last month, Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found 46 percent of N.C. voters approved of his job performance.

"It's going to be a battle," said Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller, who chairs the Chatham County Democratic Party. "But (the convention) will make a tremendous difference. It'll energize the Democrats and like-minded independents."

Two years after Obama carried Chatham by 3,192 votes, Republicans unseated two Democratic county commissioners.

N.C. State Auditor Beth Wood acknowledged that many North Carolinians voted for Obama for a change they have yet to see.

"Many people thought it would happen overnight. It didn't," she said. "But having the convention here will help a tremendous amount. It'll bring energy and excitement and will make it more likely we'll all work together."

A people's convention?

Former Mayor Harvey Gantt and Wasserman Schultz trumpeted the claim that this would be "the first convention in history to be funded by the people."

New party rules bar money from corporations, lobbyists, political action committees, and individual donations over $100,000 in raising the $37 million for the convention itself.

However, organizers are seeking corporate money in raising up to $15 million for the convention host committee. Belk and Wells Fargo are two companies that have acknowledged plans to give.

"Taking corporate money is a violation of President Obama's pledge not to do so, and they should not be allowed to campaign on faulty rhetoric," N.C. Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement.

Republican mayoral candidate Scott Stone called on Foxx to be "more transparent" regarding convention costs and fundraising.

Convention organizers have declined to give progress reports. The Federal Election Commission requires no financial reports until after the convention. A host committee spokesperson declined to comment.

After the rally, knots of people clustered around a table stocked with merchandise featuring the new convention logo.

Rachel Watkins of Lincoln County plopped down $300 for buttons, T-shirts, tote bags and water bottles.

Kathy Henley, 73, of Lexington County in South Carolina bought a $25 T-shirt and three buttons.

"It's very inspiring," she said of the new logo.

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