Democrats touted on Tuesday the 12-month countdown to their 2012 national convention in North Carolina, whose 15 electoral votes they hope will provide a winning margin for President Barack Obama should he lose critical Midwest states.
Obama narrowly won the state in 2008, but its stalled economy may overshadow the high-profile convention and push the state back into the GOP column.
The state “is very important, especially since they made a point of having the convention there,” said Dean Debnam, chief executive at Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in Raleigh. “The Obama campaign is likely to put a lot of time and effort into North Carolina,” he said.
“President Obama and the DNC chose Charlotte because … [it] is a example of how [a] can-do spirit can help a community build a better future and rebuild its economy in a way that creates opportunity,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, declared Tuesday as she unveiled the convention’s logo.
The state has a strong biotech sector, several leading universities and a large financial sector, all of which have strong ties to the Democratic Party. “What’s happening here in Charlotte is what President Obama has set out to do for the rest of the economy,” Wasserman Schutlz announced.
But these sectors have been hit hard by the recession. The percentage of unemployed state residents looking for jobs rose to 10.1 percent in July, up from 9.7 percent in May, as the state’s ailing financial industry and local governments laid off workers.
The recession has also hit Obama’s ratings in the state. (RELATED: Obama to ask debt reduction ‘supercommittee’ ‘to overshoot its targets’)
A recent poll by Debnam’s firm showed Obama only three points ahead of former Governor Mitt Romney. The poll showed that 50 percent of the state’s voters disapprove of Obama’s performance, but that he would still be supported by 46 percent, while Romney would get the votes of only 43 percent, according to the poll of 780 people. “However most of the undecided voters are GOP leaning so it’s probably best to think of that match up as a tie,” said a statement from PPP.
The poll was also conducted in early August, before successive political traumas — the financial downgrade, zero job-growth for the month, green-economy layoffs — pushed Obama’s national ratings down into the low-40s, and lowered his ratings in critical swing-states, such as Ohio and Iowa, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In 2008 Obama won North Carolina — and its 15 electoral votes — with 49.7 percent of the vote, compared to Sen. John McCain’s of 49.4 percent. That narrow margin of 0.32 percent amounted to 14,000 votes out of 4.3 million.
“Obama has a lot of work to do in North Carolina to win … [because voters] are 100 percent concerned about a paycheck,” said Wayne King, the vice-chairman of the state Republican Party. “The economy and the jobs numbers will drive the election in North Carolina,” he said.
“He’s not doing very well,” said Nino Saviano, a D.C.-based GOP consultant who works in the state. “It looks like North Carolina will not be in his winning column.”
A poll conducted in July for a GOP-leaning group, the Civitas Institute, showed Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading Obama by three points, 45 percent to 42 percent.
“For the President to be trailing an unannounced candidate in a state he barely won in 2012 has to be concerning for the Obama team,” said Francis De Luca, the president of Civitas.
“If Obama is hoping to catch lightning again and win North Carolina, he is going to have to hope for a weaker opponent than Gov. Perry or a big bounce from having the Democratic National Convention here next year,” De Luca said.
The Democratic Party’s decision to hold the convention in Charlotte will boost investment in the Obama’s ground-game in the state, said Debnam. The campaign will likely have plenty of money, he said, so “they will not skimp on anything.”
But the poor economy will hinder Obama if voters don’t recognize the harmful impact of policies pushed by President George W. Bush, said Debnam. Democrats suffered in the 2010 elections because voters blamed Democrats for the economic downturn, he said. “It was Bush’s economy, and they blamed it on Obama,” he said. “People aren’t sophisticated enough,” he complained.
The state has suffered partly because its financial sector was hit hard by layoffs. For example, officials at the Charlotte-based Bank of America have plans to lay off another 10,000 workers in the short term, and 15,000 more over the next several years, according to a Sept. 2 report by McClatchy Newspapers. In May, Wells Fargo & Co. announced it had laid off 548 workers in Charlotte this year.
The state also recently laid off 2,681 workers, including 847 teachers, according to an Aug. 31 report by the Associated Press. (RELATED: Obama faces historic lows in poll numbers)
The local economy has damaged incumbent Democratic Governor Bev Perdue, who is now trailing her likely GOP opponent, said King. “Her numbers are in the tank, she will be on the ballot in 2012 … [and] I think it will hurt Obama,” he said.
“She’s in real trouble,” but the impact on Obama will be muted by the state voters’ willingness to split their tickets, countered Debnam.
To win amid a stalled economy, Democrats are likely to run a negative campaign.
The negative attacks will likely depict the GOP candidates as hostile to science, the biotech sector and intolerant of cultural differences.
“The Republican goal is to make this a hate-filled campaign… they’re literally willing to take this country to its knees … the Republican Party has become the party of willful ignorance,” Debnam told TheDC.
But “when you have people out of work, they quit thinking about race and religion,” countered a GOP consultant in the state.
Overall, negative attacks are likely to be less effective in 2012, he said. “People are looking for solutions, not for rhetoric,” he said, adding that a strategy based on negative attacks “gets old [and] I don’t that’s going to be as effective this year.”
Wasserman Schultz did not mention polls or the economy in her speech Tuesday. The convention, she declared, will be “the best DNC convention ever in American history … together we will turn North Carolina blue and return Barack Obama to the White House.”