N.C. Democrats Try To Shake Off Pre-Convention Blues

fromWFAE

The audience listens as President Obama speaks about student loans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last month. i i

The audience listens as President Obama speaks about student loans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last month. Larry Downing/Reuters /Landov hide caption

itoggle caption Larry Downing/Reuters /Landov
The audience listens as President Obama speaks about student loans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last month.

The audience listens as President Obama speaks about student loans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last month.

Larry Downing/Reuters /Landov

The Democratic Party will hold its national convention in Charlotte this September. The choice of venue was a signal that North Carolina would be a key part of President Obama's re-election strategy.

But the state's Democrats have suffered a few blows lately.

There's the high profile trial of former Democratic Sen. John Edwards. Even more troubling to North Carolina Democrats are the passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and a sex-scandal in the state party organization.

President Obama won North Carolina by his narrowest margin in 2008 — less than half a percentage point — and state Democrats are fervently hoping to keep it "blue" for him in November.

But lately, many are just feeling blue.

"We've got people coming from around the world, coming to Charlotte in September, and look what ... is being splashed across the pages of the newspapers over the last several weeks," says Gray Newman, a Charlotte Democrat who serves as a precinct chair.

Scandal And Setbacks

State leaders of the North Carolina Democratic Party are mired in a sexual harassment scandal involving the party's director and a former staffer. The director resigned. But it turns out there was a settlement over the allegations, which led to calls for the party chairman, David Parker, to resign, too. Parker nearly did, but changed his mind when some party loyalists urged him to stay.

On top of all that, Democrats are getting some push back from labor groups about their decision to hold the party's national convention in a state that limits union power.

Fundraising for the convention has been slow.

Two weeks ago came the real hit, says Newman, when the state voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The amendment was approved by 61 percent of state voters, a percentage that Newman said "truly astounded" him.

A gay rights group has gathered thousands of signatures to an online petition demanding the convention move to another state.

Demoralized But Not Out

While national party leaders say they're committed to making the convention a success in Charlotte, North Carolina Democrats like state Rep. Pricey Harrison admit the timing is not ideal.

In 2010, Republicans took control of the state Legislature for the first time in a century. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, has since become so powerless and unpopular she decided not to run for re-election.

"There's not a lot that we get to claim credit for now because it's all been defense," says Harrison. "But I think that we've got a track record and a legacy that we can be proud of in North Carolina."

Communicating that legacy is a big responsibility of the North Carolina Democratic Party, which is currently in disarray over the harassment scandal. But a spokesman says the state party is "continuing to do the work necessary to elect Democrats up and down the ticket."

Getting Out The Vote

Way down the ticket, Dan McCorkle is managing campaigns for several Charlotte Democrats.

He says he's not too worried about the state of the state party because the Obama campaign is already in North Carolina with volunteers.

"They're everywhere. They're motivated. They're working every day to get the base Democratic vote, out," he says. "And that in the end is the most important thing that is happening in North Carolina right now."

Obama campaign volunteer Olivia Reburn, who lives across the state line in South Carolina, hasn't given much thought to the recent setbacks of Democrats in North Carolina.

"I think this is the place to be in the Southeast, as far as you know, working for the Democratic Party and getting people energized to vote," she says.

Reburn feels like North Carolina really matters in 2012.

So do the Republicans, who recently announced a plan to send their own volunteers from South Carolina up to this battleground state.

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