It’s funny how Democrats keep tripping over the name of the stadium where President Obama will accept his party’s nomination.
Financial appeals from the Democratic Party have called it “Panthers Stadium,” referring to the Charlotte-based football team. “I’m calling it the football stadium,” said a defiant Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the 2012 convention, in a CNN interview.
Democrats are more than a little squeamish about the real name—Bank of America Stadium. The naming rights were bought by one of the largest financial institutions in the country, a beneficiary of the bank bailout and a prime target for critics of hidden debit-card fees and wrongful foreclosures.
“It’s like waving a red flag at the people who see all the corporate cronyism that’s so persistent in Washington,” said Sal Russo, a top strategist in the tea party movement.
President Obama, the favored candidate of Wall Street in 2008, has taken on increasingly populist lines of attack in the 2012 campaign, opposing tax cuts for the wealthiest households, insisting that Wall Street “play fair,” and criticizing Mitt Romney’s record of corporate takeovers. One of the first convention speakers to be announced was Massachusetts’ Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who helped establish a regulatory agency to protect consumers against transgressions by big lenders.
The notion that the convention’s themes will clash with Charlotte’s “Wall Street South” isn’t just coming from the tea party. Activists from the Occupy movement and other power-to-the-people groups plan protests throughout the week. That means placards declaring “Pennies for the People, Billions for Bankers” will compete with Obama campaign signs in uptown Charlotte.
Polls show voters initially supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a multibillion-dollar government effort begun under George W. Bush to save “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions. By January 2009, when President Obama was taking charge, 61 percent opposed the second phase of the program in a CNN/ORC International poll.
Polls have also found widespread confusion over whether Democratic or Republican administrations are to blame. Only one-third of Americans correctly say that the bailout began under the Bush administration, while 47 percent think it was President Obama’s initiative, and 19 percent say they don’t know, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The misunderstandings about the bipartisan legislation—even Republican small-government crusader Paul Ryan voted for it—complicate Charlotte’s image. But the city was picked for reasons that have nothing to do with it housing the headquarters of Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
North Carolina was one of Obama’s biggest coups in the 2008 election. He won by less than 15,000 votes, becoming the first Democratic nominee to claim the state since 1976. North Carolina’s burgeoning minority communities and highly educated college towns represent the winning coalition built by Obama nationwide.
“Charlotte is an energy hub that is attracting top talent, innovation, and businesses to the area, and it’s a city with an eye on the future and reflective of President Obama’s vision for moving our country forward,” said Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher.
Still, when millions of viewers watch Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday, it’s unlikely that the stadium’s naming rights will be on their minds. “I’m not sure people will make that connection,” said Democratic strategist Josh King, who helped oversee the messaging at former President Clinton’s 1996 convention. “There may be some chuckles in distant corners, but I don’t think it will reverberate loudly.”
This article appears in the September 3, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.