As Democrats prepare to choose a host city to re-nominate President Obama, they must choose between four mid-size contenders in swing states, each with its own advantages—and drawbacks. The Democratic National Committee is expected to choose among Charlotte, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis in the next few weeks.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she believes the contest is down to St. Louis and Charlotte, and she expects a decision any day.
"I can't speak with confidence we're gonna get it, but I think we're definitely in it—it's down to the final two," she said.
Each city comes with its own political and optical considerations. Charlotte is a young and diversifying city in the new South, which helped Obama become the first Democrat since 1976 to win North Carolina's electoral votes. Turnout in St. Louis is crucial for any successful Democrat in the traditional bellwether state of Missouri, which Obama narrowly lost in both the primary and general election. Cleveland is from a similar mold: It's the blue heart of a purple state and a city built on manufacturing—a sector that Obama has concentrated on reinvigorating. Of the four potential convention cities, Minneapolis has the highest share of well-educated voters, another key part of Obama’s coalition, and a crucial swing bloc. (Check out Major Garrett's picks.)
The key questions for DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and Obama to consider, aside from logistical concerns, are what narrative the host city lends to the Democratic Party, and how much help (or damage) the host state’s Democrats can expect to derive from a visit from the national party.
The Queen City may mirror the president’s history and trajectory the closest. 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. Like the president, the city has seen its ambitions checked by the recession: the banking industry that had spurred much of the city’s growth took a big hit. While the city’s unemployment rate has fallen in the past year, it's still in the double digits.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx has a similar profile to Obama. A young black lawyer, Foxx is the youngest mayor in Charlotte’s history at 38 and 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,” Foxx told National Journal.
Foxx also pointed out a geographic consideration: Obama’s electoral map expanded greatly when he successfully competed below the Mason-Dixon Line by registering thousands of first-time voters, many of them young voters or minorities. Obama’s 100,000 vote margin in Charlotte’s Mecklenberg County provided him with the cushion to win the state narrowly 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.”
Foxx wants the convention because of the spotlight it would put on the city. University of North Carolina (Charlotte) professor Eric Heberlig said Charlotte “almost has a chip on its shoulder—not enough people know how big and important we are.”
The effort to woo the convention 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 DNC's decision, however, is sitting Gov. Bev Perdue. She benefitted from Obama’s registration push in her narrow 2008 win. Her reelection may hinge on how many first-time 2008 voters come out again for Obama, and how many come out against him.