Presidential Race

Will Convention Give Obama A Boost In N.C.?

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Organizers of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., planned for it to be a massive organizing and registration opportunity for voters in the state, a key battleground. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Democrats in North Carolina are hoping to extend the momentum of the convention, organizing to get out the vote in November. President Obama narrowly won the state four years ago, but recent polls have shown Mitt Romney now ahead. The weak economy still looms over their organizing efforts. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: All week in Charlotte, volunteers registered voters, collected cell phone numbers and email addresses, hoping to turn that information into turnout in the fall. The normally behind-the-scenes manager of the Obama campaign, Jim Messina, even put in a pitch during remarks he gave from the convention podium Thursday night.

JIM MESSINA: First, register to vote right now. Go to - that's G-O-T-T-A Second, if you're already registered, go to

NAYLOR: Messina also said supporters could donate to the Obama campaign by texting. Clearly, the campaign has a lot riding on these organizational efforts. The president won North Carolina by just over 14,000 votes in 2008. Walton Robinson, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of North Carolina, said Democrats modeled their efforts in Charlotte after what party organizers in Colorado achieved when the convention was held there four years ago.

WALTON ROBINSON: We're still going to get a great benefit from it here in North Carolina. We hope to replicate what happened in Denver, where just the enthusiasm of having the convention come for the first time is something that has had people excited since day one.

NAYLOR: There was a big difference, though. In Denver, Mr. Obamas acceptance speech was held at Invesco Field before some 80,000 people. But in Charlotte, the threat of rain scratched plans to recreate that experience at Bank of America Stadium. That left tens of thousands of volunteers and supporters who had worked for the campaign to earn a ticket locked out. North Carolina Democrats organized viewing parties across the state, but it wasn't the same. In a conference call with those left out of the speech, the president tried to give a bit of a pep talk.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And I'm so proud of the grassroots efforts all of you are doing, especially on voter registration. North Carolina, by the way, is Exhibit A of the unbelievable work that's being done at the grassroots level. You guys are blowing it out when it comes to registering voters.

NAYLOR: And in fact, Democrats say, they've registered more than 30,000 new voters in North Carolina in the past month. But will it matter? The unemployment in the state, 9.6 percent, is more than a point above the national average. University of North Carolina, Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig has his doubts.

ERIC HEBERLIG: Arguably, if grassroots is going to matter anywhere it would matter here. Given the state of the economy and the basic conservative lean of North Carolina, it's not clear that generating a bit more in turn out would be sufficient to keep the state in the Democratic column.

NAYLOR: Democrats, though, disagree. They've put stock in their organizing efforts not just in North Carolina but nationwide. Walton Robinson of the North Carolina Democratic Party says voters will start tuning out ads, and having a good ground game in place will matter.

ROBINSON: We know that people are getting blitzed with ads. And so when we have that infrastructure out in the state to turn people out to register those voters and get them out, I think that that will be the difference between winning and losing this fall.

NAYLOR: The Obama campaign has 50 field offices in North Carolina, twice the number Romney has. Democrats hope that advantage is enough to overcome the disadvantage the president faces with the economy. Early voting in North Carolina starts next month. Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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