Democrats have picked Charlotte, N.C., as the site of their 2012 nominating convention, choosing a Southern boom town with a pro-business reputation over more-traditional party strongholds in the industrial Midwest.
First lady Michelle Obama announced the choice in an e-mail to Democratic supporters.
“We are thrilled to be bringing the convention to Charlotte,” she wrote, citing the city’s “Southern charm, warm hospitality, and ‘up by the bootstraps’ mentality.”
The president's choice of Charlotte signals his intention to compete on territory that is not traditionally Democratic. In 2008, he narrowly defeated Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 50 percent to 49 percent, to become the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The Queen City beat out St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Cleveland for the right to host the convention, perhaps because Charlotte, more than any of the other candidate cities, represents the electorate that Obama will be targeting.
The metropolitan area is young, diverse, and well-educated, with a large black community and increasing numbers of Hispanics. It is rapidly expanding: Charlotte's population has grown by one-third since 2000. But it also mirrors the national problems that the president has had to tackle. The banking industry, which had spurred much of the city’s growth, took a big hit in the recession. Although the city’s unemployment rate has fallen in the past year, it's still in double digits.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said that both the city's assets and its weaknesses make it the right spot for Obama to launch his reelection campaign. "Location, location, location," she said in an e-mail. "In real estate, that means accessibility, good schools, and homes with a view. But in politics, it means a fertile electorate, an ample supply of electoral votes, and access to voters who might be disaffected or prime targets for 2012."
Charlotte has also invested heavily in infrastructure, specifically light rail, to help it rebound from the recession. The need for such investment was a major theme of Obama's State of the Union address last month.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx's profile is similar to President Obama's. A black lawyer, Foxx became the youngest mayor in Charlotte’s history when he was elected in 2009 at the age of 38. He is also the first Democrat to hold the post since 1987. Foxx has pushed economic diversification through expanding green energy, infrastructure, health care services, and higher education. “We’re an example of where the country needs to grow,” he told National Journal before the decision.
Foxx also pointed out a geographic consideration: Obama’s electoral map expanded greatly when he successfully competed south of the Mason-Dixon Line by registering thousands of first-time voters, many of them young or minorities. Obama’s 100,000-vote margin in Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County provided him with the cushion to narrowly win the state by 12,000 votes.
“By coming to Charlotte, not only does the DNC pick a city that tells the great story of America, it also returns the Democratic Party to the South,” Foxx said. “This is an opportunity to take the fight right into the heart of where folks have always thought the Republican Party had an advantage.”
At least one major labor organization, UNITE HERE, which represents hospitality workers, urged Democrats not to choose Charlotte because of its lack of unionized hotels. In a letter made public last fall, union President John Wilhelm said that Charlotte, along with Clevelend, "should be removed from the list of finalist cities."
Charlotte's effort to woo the convention, which will be held the week of September 3 next year, has been a bipartisan affair: Foxx has recruited Republicans, including former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot and former Gov. James Martin, to help make the sale. The person who may have the most to gain—or lose—from the decision, however, is sitting Gov. Bev Perdue. She benefited from Obama’s registration push in her narrow win in 2008. Her reelection may hinge on how many of those first-time 2008 voters come out again for Obama, and how many come out against him.
Marc Ambinder contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the February 1, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.