Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton’s plans for the Democratic convention. He will address the convention on Thursday.
Millions of Democrats will be thrilled to watch on television as President Obama accepts renomination on Thursday. But for some North Carolina Democrats running in difficult races this year, Obama’s presence in their backyard has made their lives decidedly uncomfortable.
Rep. Larry Kissell, who is seeking re-election, and Democratic candidate Hayden Rogers will both avoid the Democratic convention this week. While that might be understandable for a candidate running for office in, say, Missouri or Montana, it is less explicable for the two North Carolina Democrats, for whom the stadium is a relatively short drive.
The benefits and drawbacks for Lt. Gov Walter Dalton are similar. Running for governor after the unpopular incumbent, Democrat Bev Perdue, said she would forgo a second term, Dalton -- who will address the convention Thursday night -- will benefit from the millions Obama has spent here already, both on television advertising and on field operations. But Dalton remains a distinct underdog against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, whose campaign sounds at times like an anti-Obama third-party group. In 2008, Perdue ran well ahead of Obama; for Dalton to have any hope of success, he must do the same, which means winning over Obama loyalists while appealing to at least a handful of voters who will back Mitt Romney in the fall.
“Having the convention in Charlotte can be a mixed bag for down-ballot Democrats in North Carolina. For statewide Democrats, I think they view the president’s campaign infrastructure and turnout operation to be a big benefit,” said Jonathan Kappler, an elections analyst at the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation. “For other Democrats that are running in GOP-leaning districts, there are less benefits. Their districts were designed to make it very difficult for any Democrat to be successful, so the national spotlight on North Carolina helps them much less, if not hurts them a little.”
Perhaps no one has come under more pressure than Kissell, who was first elected in part because of a high turnout that Obama inspired in 2008 and whose district begins less than 10 miles from the stadium in which Obama will deliver his acceptance speech. Kissell defeated then-Rep. Robin Hayes by 55 percent to 45 percent in 2008, a result largely driven by a huge boost in African-American turnout.
Kissell has tried to steer a centrist course in Congress. He pushed a measure in the stimulus bill that would have required the Transportation Security Administration to outfit its employees with uniforms made in the United States, something that could bring jobs back to his textile-heavy district. But he voted against other administration priorities, such as health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. After Kissell said he wouldn’t endorse Obama for reelection and voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt earlier this year, several prominent African-American leaders in his district said they wouldn’t support him in 2012.
Kissell faces a strong challenge from Republican Richard Hudson, a former Capitol Hill chief of staff. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have each committed more than $1 million in advertising dollars to the Charlotte market, hinting at just how competitive the race will be.
Like Kissell, Rep. Mike McIntyre faces a dramatically redrawn district after a decennial redistricting process in which Republicans gerrymandered Democratic-held seats. But McIntyre, who ranks as the fifth-most conservative Democrat in the House according to National Journal’s 2012 vote ratings, is attending the convention to speak to the North Carolina delegation and to attend fundraisers and the convention kickoff, his campaign manager said. McIntyre voted the same way that Kissell did on health care, cap-and-trade, and Holder, but he has avoided the blowback that Kissell has experienced.
McIntyre has “got a long record in Congress. That often can be a liability, but in this case, he has plenty of things to point to where he can show distance between himself and the national party,” Kappler said.
The benefits and drawbacks for Dalton are similar. Running for governor after the unpopular incumbent, Democrat Bev Perdue, said she would forgo a second term, Dalton will benefit from the millions of dollars that Obama has spent here already, both on television advertising and on field operations. Dalton, however, remains an underdog against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican whose campaign sounds at times like an anti-Obama third-party group.
The delicate dance between party loyalty and independent brand is one that has been repeated across the South. Rep. John Barrow, the Georgia Democrat, needed Obama to record radio ads on his behalf two years ago to fend off an African-American primary challenger; Republicans are now using those ads to tie Barrow to the administration. Others, like Reps. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike Ross of Arkansas, and Heath Shuler of North Carolina, simply decided to retire at the end of this Congress rather than to run with Obama at the top of the ticket.