Before the convention even started, the Charlotte host committee was trying to cast the Democrats as the “big tent” party, just a few days after the Republican National Convention pulled out all the stops to try to appeal to female and Hispanic voters.
Along South Tryon Street, home to the free festival called CarolinaFest 2012, advocacy groups gave away buttons, bags, and swag for every cause imaginable, from gay rights and abortion rights to veterans issues.
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-advocacy group, handed out reusable shopping bags, while NARAL Pro-Choice America distributed blue fans that read “Vote Pro Choice: Politicians Make Crappy Doctors.” Other festivalgoers wore buttons that said “I Love Obamacare.” It came across as a huge play to make the party look welcoming to people from all types of backgrounds in a state that Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., says remains very much in play for Obama. “It’s going to depend on who turns out to vote,” she told Convention Daily on Monday.
D.C. power couple Heather and Tony Podesta threw a “farmhouse-chic brunch” at the Halcyon restaurant at the Mint Museum on Monday (with a sequel brunch scheduled for Tuesday).
Dressed in red alligator loafers, Tony Podesta opined that he’s not as jazzed about this convention as the one in Denver in 2008. “Well, it’s just starting, but there’s no conflict and no suspense,” he said. “Last time, there was a tough contest with a lot of good candidates, and the peacemaking between [Hillary Rodham] Clinton and Obama was part of the convention. Now, we’re just trying to bring the Obama and Biden people together.”
His wife, Heather, stood a few feet away in a purple dress and matching, strappy purple sandals. Also on hand: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, chatting with Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List; Hagan with her husband, Chip; and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
THE UNION’S “KENNEDY ROOM”
Unions know no greater foe these days than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Earlier this year, Walker became the first governor in the nation’s history to survive a recall vote—a vote forced thanks to millions of union dollars and thousands of union man-hours.
So imagine the heartache when the AFL-CIO showed up at its Democratic convention headquarters, a Hilton hotel just a block from the media center, only to be offered the Walker conference room.
Never ones to waste an opportunity, AFL-CIO officials acted quickly to make new paper signs, dubbing their digs the Kennedy Room. No word on whether they’re planning a late-night raid on the directory signs.
LET’S MOVE—TO ANOTHER EATERY
Pssst, convention organizers … have you heard that fitness buff and first lady Michelle Obama (you know, Tuesday night’s marquee speaker) wants less fat and more vegetables on America’s dinner plates? Because a quick scan of the convention center indicates you missed the memo.
And we’re not even talking about the Bojangles eatery on the first floor, which we understand is a North Carolina fast-food institution. No, we’re focused on the calorie hub sitting in the media filing center, a cafeteria replete with artery-clogging pulled pork and potatoes au gratin thick enough to cement bricks. Worse yet, the roughly $20 flat fee incentivizes diners to pile as much food as possible on their plates (pecan pie, anyone?). Perhaps it’s no wonder the cafeteria sat largely abandoned during Monday lunchtime. Reporters are moving, all right—to another restaurant.
ART KEEPS OBAMA LOOKING YOUNG
The Mint Museum unveiled a tapestry of Obama by the artist Chuck Close on Monday morning. What’s most striking about the black-and-white portrait isn’t its size (which takes up a good chunk of wall space), but the way the president looks so youthful.
Despite being based on a June photo, Obama doesn’t have any gray hair or show any of the other ways the presidency has aged him. Now, how’s that for artists boosting Obama’s image?
There are the official Obama merchandise stands with $50 handbags designed by New York fashion impresario Tory Burch, and then there are the nonofficial hawkers of Obama paraphernalia looking to make a quick buck off the convention.
Among them is 45-year-old Charlotte resident Adrian Stowe, who has been selling Obama T-shirts for the past four years. He designed the “Obama 2012” fitted women’s tees, with the lettering done in fake rhinestones, as well as a dark shirt for the more politically minded that features the slogan “Moving America Forward.”
Stowe estimates that he’s made about $100,000 off his Obama gear since 2008, and he’s hoping this week’s convention is equally lucrative. He printed roughly 5,000 shirts for the week, priced between $15 and $20. “The president has made a difference to this small-business owner,” Stowe says. But maybe not in the way the Obama campaign intended.
“SPEAKING IN CODE”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said on Monday that Mitt Romney’s widely discredited campaign ad charging President Obama with a plan “to gut welfare reform” figured into a larger Republican plan aimed at furthering racist stereotypes and painting Obama as extremist.
“I think it is speaking in code,” Jackson told Convention Daily. “It is building on the Reagan welfare-queen stereotype.”
“It’s not an isolated statement. It’s a plan,” he added.
Independent fact-checkers have roundly criticized the Romney ad because work requirements would not be dropped, as the spot claims, but changed as part of a larger plan to boost job placement. And welfare benefits would not be extended beyond a specified time under the plan, consistent with the 1996 welfare-reform law.
Jackson called the Romney ad “consistent with voter suppression, stereotyping.”
Nancy Cook, Jim O’Sullivan, Alex Roarty, and Reid Wilson contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the September 4, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.